Birth of an Australian filmmaker
BY HEATHER GILL
World Home Movie Day on 20 October celebrates the personal, historical and social importance of home movies. This year we highlight the home movies of award-winning producer, editor and NFSA Ambassador, Anthony 'Tony' Buckley.
He recollects his first experiences of amateur filmmaking and shares early footage that he took in Sydney and overseas in the 1950s.
A filmmaking family
The NFSA now holds a number of home movies spanning two generations of the Buckley family, from the years 1929–72.
Anthony Buckley was introduced to home movies through his family, recalling that once movie cameras were available to the public, his father and two of his uncles became keen hobbyists.
'Kethel (Keth), my father, had opted for shooting 9.5mm, the unique French gauge with the sprocket hole in the middle of the frame. Brian, a younger brother, had gone with the new 8mm gauge for economy, and the eldest brother, Horrie Pat, my godfather, had decided on 16mm, a somewhat expensive choice for 1928'.
From childhood, Anthony Buckley 'was accustomed to our Saturday night home movies on Dad’s 16mm Bolex projector'. He was enthralled as his father 'ran the family’s home movies backwards and forwards, which would keep everyone entertained for hours. Divers at the Manly pool would suddenly come flying out of the water backwards onto their diving boards. His younger brother eating a banana would regurgitate it and place it back in its skin. I thought it was trick photography but it was sleight of hand with the projector'.
See an example in the clip below:
Circular Quay in the 1950s
So inspired was the young Anthony Buckley that with the help of his father, he set up the Kings of Crows Nest, his own backyard cinema in the former walk-in aviary built by his grandfather. First he projected using a magic lantern, then screened the films he had shot on his 9.5mm camera. He put every penny of his pocket money into buying film stock from Heiron & Smith, the company renowned for manufacturing and selling billiard and snooker tables that at some point had branched into film as well.
Anthony ventured each Saturday 'into town on the tram to put in a two-and-a-half minute roll of film for developing. One had to wait three weeks for the film to be processed and when Pathé introduced Kodachrome, the tiny spool of film had to go back to Paris to be developed. It would take at least 12 weeks before I would see my rushes! Film was so expensive and the rolls so short it was an excellent exercise in discipline as to what to shoot and what not to shoot!'
This process led to a fascination with splicing, 'editing and making a story out of the material I had shot. As a result the Sydney Cinema Gazette was created, to be shown at Kings on Saturday nights'. It was also one of the skills that Anthony was able to use in his first full-time job, with Cinesound Productions.
He spent school holidays with Uncle Horace at his property near Geurie, located between Wellington and Dubbo in New South Wales. These trips inspired in Anthony an interest in trains and the newly completed Circular Quay station featured in his Sydney Cinema Gazette:
The streets of San Francisco
At 21, Anthony Buckley headed overseas for work and adventure. First he went to Canada, basing himself in Ottawa and taking trips by train on the 'Twilight Limited to Chicago and the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe from Chicago to Los Angeles and Hollywood!'
He also shot this vivid colour footage of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco in the late 1950s:
Armed with 10 rolls of Kodachrome, Anthony's two-week trip to the US proved to be a filmmaking challenge, with only two rolls of film left for the last leg and the greatest spectacle: 'the Grand Canyon at dawn was worth an early morning change of trains. Even the best travel writer in the world would be hard put to describe the sight that greets you as you approach the canyon rim and the colours and moods of the canyon throughout the day, and I was hoping the Kodachrome unspooling in the camera would catch some of its magic appeal.'
Later, when his father’s health was declining, Anthony took his projector to show him 'my latest trip on my favourite mode of transport, freighter ships', mirroring the Saturday nights he had been entertained as a child watching the films of his father.
Anthony's childhood fascination with home movies led to a successful film career, first as an editor on notable films such as Wake in Fright and then as a producer of iconic Australian titles such as Caddie, Bliss, The Harp in the South, Bedevil and the Oyster Farmer. You can find more recollections from Anthony in his biography, Behind a Velvet Light Trap: A Filmmaker’s Journey from Cinesound to Cannes.