The 1950s Melbourne art scene
‘I think it’s profound, the effect of home movies – we are the first generation of human beings who can look back one hundred years and see what we look like.’ – Philippe Mora
In 2002 artist and filmmaker Philippe Mora donated a collection of 8mm home movies to the NFSA. Made between 1954 and 1960 by Gerty Anschel, they feature rare footage of the Melbourne art scene of the 1950s. Philippe remembered the presence of a home movie camera in his childhood and appears in the films as a boy.
Philippe was brought up surrounded by art and artists. His father Georges Mora was an art dealer and founder of Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne. His mother was Mirka Mora, a celebrated artist and personality who still exhibited her work into her 80s. Mirka and Georges emigrated from Paris to Melbourne in 1951.
Soon after their arrival they opened the Mirka Café, an establishment that attracted local artists and like-minded bohemians. The Moras also became close friends with the Anschel family, who had children of a similar age. Klaus Anschel had emigrated from Dusseldorf, Germany to Melbourne where he met Gerty, who had arrived from Vienna. Gerty shot the home movies with her 8mm camera.
Gerty had a superior eye and a sophisticated auteur approach to filming and editing. She primarily filmed her family and friends and peppered throughout the footage are candid scenes of picnics, parties and artist enclaves. Appearing in the films are Mirka and Georges Mora, John Perceval, Mary Perceval (now Lady Nolan, widow of Sidney Nolan), Arthur Boyd, David Boyd, Charles Blackman, Joy Hester, Gray Smith, Hermia Boyd and Laurence Hope, along with many of the artists’ children.
To Philippe’s surprise, American actor and two-time Academy Award winner Melvyn Douglas (Hud, 1963; Being There, 1979) is visible sipping wine with Mirka and friends at a balcony party.
Given his background, it’s not surprising Philippe Mora grew up an artist and filmmaker himself. His controversial film Swastika (1974) incorporated home movies of Nazi leaders (including colour footage shot by Hitler’s long-time mistress Eve Braun). He brought Dennis Hopper to Australia for Mad Dog Morgan (1976).
His musical Trouble in Molopolis (1970) – funded by the unlikely duo of Eric Clapton and Arthur Boyd – features the 1970s London-based OZ set of Martin Sharp, Richard Neville, Jenny Kee and Germaine Greer and he drew cartoons for OZ magazine in the late 60s.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Philippe while he was promoting his latest film Absolutely Modern (2013), which incidentally tells some of the stories from his own Melbourne childhood. It was the perfect opportunity to return to the home movies shot by Gerty and reflect on his childhood and the personalities that helped to guide and inspire his own eclectic artistic career.
We recorded a conversational commentary while watching the films, in which he appears between the ages of four and eight. ‘How could you not be creative’, he says in response to the footage. ‘It was creative, we did stuff, we copied them.’
His commentary is included with the following three clips, edited from Gerty’s home movies.
Mora home movies
The above clip features home movie footage taken by Gerty Anschel in approximately 1953-54, with audio commentary by Philippe Mora.
Included are shots of Melbourne, the Mirka Café and Joy Hester and Gray Smith’s property. In the commentary, Philippe reflects on his childhood and identifies key figures of the Melbourne art scene.
This clip from Gerty Anschel’s home movies (shot c.1954-55) features the property of Roger de Stoop, artist friends, and Arthur Boyd at work on his 1956 Melbourne Olympic sculpture. Audio commentary by Philippe Mora.
This clip from Gerty Anschel’s home movies (shot c.1954-55) features the Mora family, an artist gathering at a balcony party and American actor Melvyn Douglas. Audio commentary by Philippe Mora.
With thanks to the Anschel and Mora families, Philippe Mora, Sally Jackson, Viktor Fumic, Michael Karris and Gordon McPhail.