15 August 1996 saw the release of a quiet, Australian film: one of the first to be made under the new SA Film Corporation funding structure. Directed by relative unknown, Scott Hicks, and starring a (then) mostly theatre actor, Geoffrey Rush, the film would rocket both Hicks and Rush to the top of their professions, garner a swag of international awards, put South Australian film firmly on the map, and reignite the career of pianist, David Helfgott, whose story it told. The film was called Shine.
This week many of those who were involved in that production reunited, coinciding with the release of a new, digital print of the movie. Also, as part of the anniversary celebration, the private collection of Shine memorabilia, owned by Hicks and Kerry Heysen (the film’s producer) has been leant to SA Film Corp for an exhibition.
“Well,” said Hicks, “it was a combination of being a colossal critical and award success, coupled with a box-office smash, which is a rare combination. And it continues to resonate to this day, because of that. It’s a film which takes a marginal character and puts him at the centre of the story. There is an emotional truth to it which still resonates with audiences today.”
That success had a huge effect on Hicks’ career.
“Oh my god, it totally brought the walls down! I was suddenly right in the middle of the room. I was offered everything. It changed my life overnight, in a massive way. In a way that gave me access to tremendous material, talent and money. It was just extraordinary.”
Asking both Hicks and Rush if they were making the film today, would they do anything differently, Rush jokes he’d do it in 3D!
“The end of the piano would be out in G row,” he said. “Seriously, though, you can’t rethink it. For me it’s such a beautiful product of its own time. It was a highly unusual Australian film in what some wag called the fruit salad period. We always joke about the sequel Shine2: The Happy Years!”
On the challenges of playing a real-life character, and one who was, in fact, on set some of the time, Rush admits: “I was very lucky, in that Scott had done hours and hours of audio interviews, and I had access to all of them. Because David has such idiosyncratic speech patterns, it’s almost like learning some obscure language, like Esperanto. So I was able to osmose much of that.”
“Well, one of the expressions I remember you using was, I need to hover over this,” Hicks chimed in.
“Yes,” Rush agreed. “I wanted to research and say this is what David does, but then get on set and think how will I channel this back out? And I did tell Scott that I didn’t think it was a good idea to have David on set too often, because I didn’t want people making comparisons. I wanted to own it.”
For the opening of the exhibition on Friday 19 August 2016, both Hicks and Rush spoke to the opening night crowd:
“So here we are now in an old psychiatric hospital,” Hicks said. “Actually, this was an important location for Shine. We see Geoffrey coming out of these doors, bearing a couple of plastic bags in his hands, with papers and music bursting out of them, a cigarette in his mouth, blinking mildly, for all the world looking like a film-maker who has failed to get the grant! And going through this archive has been a real trip into memory for me. And it is also a testimonial to the fact that I’m a bit of a hoarder. And I guess I imaged myself one day, pouring over my yellowing clippings, in my dotage. And it seems that that day has arrived!”
Rush, wearing a crumpled overcoat, and looking very much like his Helfgott character, spoke with some nostalgia:
“I haven’t seen all of the exhibition yet, as it makes me weep to see how brunette I was! If you haven’t seen the film yet, the digital remastering is pretty spectacular. Great to know that it’s now on a chip the size of my finger, rather than on decaying nitrate stock, which is what I feel like! I have a very close relationship with Adelaide, having spent much of the 80s and 90s here doing theatre, and then having shot Shine here, and it’s great to come back twenty years later.”
The Shine 20th Anniversary Private Memorabilia Collection is open for public viewing from today, 22 August 2016 from 10am to 4pm weekdays at the SA Film Corporation, 226 Fullarton Rd, Glenside.
The remastered film premiered at Capri Cinema on 19 August, with the DVD available from Ronin Films. Additional screenings are to be announced.
Interview by Tracey Korsten
Photo by Vueey Le’s Photography