Cultural District and ‘The Lost City of Melbourne’

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Visitors to New York often comment that it feels like stepping into a movie set. Walking through Central Park is to follow in the footsteps of Harry and Sally, Spider-Man or the various Muppets. Glimpses of the Chrysler Building or the New York Public Library are almost authentic: This is New York City, honey.

Melbourne has very little on-screen cache like that. Its horizon is barely in memory. Instead, architectural aspects survive on a much smaller scale: the lacy ironwork that borders cottages and townhouses; the unusually wide streets of the central city; Independent cinemas stretch across town – Astor, Palace, Theater of the Sun – with monumental facades and gently rickety seats.

And while New Yorkers celebrate its boom and bust cycle, ask Melburnians about their city’s recent history and many vacancies. It is hardly included in school curricula, which take a broader approach. Even at the city museum, the wing dedicated to the city’s history still rests on its colonial roots, before galloping in the last century.

A new documentary, “The Lost City of Melbourne,” goes several ways to explain why the city looks the way it does. At less than 90 minutes, the film reimagines Melbourne’s architectural history, honoring a number of magnificent 19th-century buildings that were felled for the advancement of glass facades in the 1950s and 1960s. and early 1970s.

The film premiered earlier this year at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Since then, screenings at independent cinemas across the city have regularly sold out, as Melburnians rush to learn more about the place they call home.

Gus Berger, the film’s director and independent theater owner in Thornbury, started the self-funded project in a stalemate. “It’s really like discovering another city,” he told me recently. “Although I know Melbourne very well and I’ve lived here all my life, it’s like discovering some kind of secret city, if you like – a city I’m not familiar with at all.”

While the film seeks to honor what Melbourne remains, it also mourns the “cultural fringe” – a phrase famously coined in 1950 by Australian critic AA Phillips – that makes developers Developers and planners had to raze some of the city’s most splendid Victorian buildings.

“We decided we were too old-fashioned and too Victorian for the world to see, as we approached the Olympic Games and the queen’s visit,” Mr. Berger said. said, referring to events that took place in 1956 and 1954. “People seem to move on and modernize, and I think the Melburnians just feel that they’re not, and they don’t want to be left behind. behind. “

Watching the movie, I was reminded of “Hoving”, a recent novel by Australian writer Rhett Davis about the city of Fraser, a similar city to Melbourne. One character describes her one-time despair at having to flee this “proverb outpost”: “It’s nothing, this city. It’s not New York, or London, or Hong Kong, or Rome. No child wonders where in the world he is, imagines what it will be like when he gets there.”

Do Melburnians still feel this way? Most not, but maybe a little. The ‘cultural gap’ isn’t at least so overbearing that a devastating ball threatens the city’s most iconic sites – but it also explains why Mr. over such long periods of time to learn about what happened before that.

And while viewers generally love the film, the anxiety at its heart – is Melbourne enough for the world? – filter through its reception. “I’m not sure how this documentary will resonate with non-Melburnians,” wondered one reviewer. Another question is whether the film has “problems with reaching audiences that are not invested in the city.”

The inhabitants of 1880s Melbourne would have no such qualms. A London journalist, visiting in 1885, called it “miracle Melbourne”, writing: “In short, the whole city is filled with riches, even with humanity”. It was rich and beautiful, and the emigrants were attracted by the promise of a land boom, resulted in land in some parts of the city being as valuable as the land of London. Over the course of the decade, the population almost doubled, from 280,000 in 1880 to 490,000 in 1890.

The “lost city of Melbourne” goes some way to regaining that people’s pride. It’s engaging, sincere and poignant, proudly local, but it also makes a compelling case that the world’s eyes must be trained on a town’s pearl, as it is and as it is.

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