Charles Chauvel (filmmaker)

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Charles Chauvel (filmmaker)
Charles Chauvel (1897-1959).jpg
Charles Chauvel in 1936
Born Charles Edward Chauvel
(1897-10-07)7 October 1897
Warwick, Queensland, Australia
Died 11 November 1959(1959-11-11) (aged 62)
Castlecrag, Sydney, Australia
Occupation Film director, producer, screenwriter
Spouse(s) Elsa Chauvel (1927–1959) (his death)

Charles Edward Chauvel OBE (7 October 1897 – 11 November 1959) was an Australian filmmaker and nephew of Australian army General Sir Harry Chauvel. He is noted for making the films Forty Thousand Horsemen in 1940 and Jedda in 1955.

Early life[edit]

Charles Edward Chauvel was born on 7 October 1897 in Warwick, Queensland, the son of James Allan Chauvel and his wife Susan Isabella (nee Barnes), pioneer farmers in the Mutdapilly area.[1][2] He was the nephew of General Sir Harry Chauvel, Commander of the Australian Light Horse and later the Desert Mounted Corps in Palestine during World War I. His father, a grazier, at 53 also enlisted to serve in Palestine and Sinai in World War I. The Chauvels were descended from a French Huguenot family who fled France for England in 1685, and soon established a tradition of serving in the British army. The Australian Chauvels descended from a Charles Chauvel who retired from the Indian army to New South Wales in 1839 and was a pioneer in the New England region.

Chauvel was educated at the Normanby State School (now the Mutdapilly State School) and The Southport School in Queensland.[2] After leaving school, he worked on Queensland properties, and on his family property when his father was at war, before studying commercial art and taking drama classes in Sydney. He was fascinated by films and pestered a friend, showman Reginald "Snowy" Baker, to give him work as a production assistant; usually, he was the man in charge of the horses. He designed the St Aidan's Church of England in Mutdapilly in 1921 (the church closed in 1974 and is now used as a private residence).[2][3] He followed Baker to Hollywood in 1922, at his own expense, and spent some time as a jack of all trades including working as an extra, a lighting technician, a publicist, a stunt double and so on.

Career[edit]

Back in Australia after about a year, Chauvel obtained finance from Queensland businessmen and friends to make his first films The Moth of Moonbi and Greenhide. Both were romantic melodramas exploring a theme of the decadent city vs the authentic country. The Moth of Moonbi is a country girl who flutters to the city lights, loses her fortune, but eventually returns home and finds love with her father's trusty stockman. In Greenhide a city girl struggles to cope on a cattle station and gradually finds love with her polar opposite, an extremely taciturn bushman.

The films were made in Harrisville near Brisbane, enlisting the locals as extras and using locations around his family property "Summerlands", near the edge of town. While making Greenhide he met Elsa May Wilcox (professional name Elsa Sylvaney), an actress, whom he married on 1927. After their marriage she traveled with him and assisted him on all his films. Both these silent films were released in 1926 and were reasonably successful in Australia. Unfortunately Chauvel could not arrange for the release of his silent movies in Hollywood because of the transition to sound.[4] He returned to Australia and worked as a cinema manager during the depression.[5]

1930s[edit]

In 1933 he made his first talkie: In the Wake of the Bounty starring Errol Flynn as Fletcher Christian before Flynn went on to Hollywood. The film mixed re-enactments with documentary, and focused not so much on the mutiny itself as on its consequences.[6] To provide a long postscript to the story of the mutiny, the Chauvels went to Pitcairn Island and shot interesting footage of the Bounty descendants, spending three months on the island. He also included footage of bare-breasted Tahitian dancers which caused a temporary problem with the censor.[6] The documentary parts were later edited out and used as promotional material for the 1935 Hollywood film about the mutiny.[7]

In 1935, Chauvel won a Commonwealth Government competition for Heritage which gave a panoramic view of Australian history. It begins with a character from the earliest days of white settlement (1788), following his struggles, his loves and his marriage, then skips to the modern generation, where a romance between descendants of the original characters completes a circle. The modern hero is struggling to run an outback cattle station, the modern heroine is an expert aviatrix.

In 1936 he made Uncivilised a "jungle story" filmed in Cape York.[5] Aimed at the U.S. market, it is the story of an upper class girl-reporter investigating the white leader of an aboriginal tribe.

International success[edit]

The outbreak of war meant that Chauvel turned to war-themed films, making Forty Thousand Horsemen, a tribute to the Australian Light Horse Brigade in Palestine in World War I, in the sand dunes at Cronulla. It was both a popular and critical success and was credited with boosting morale. It also launched the career of actor Chips Rafferty. He followed this with The Rats of Tobruk in 1944.[5] Both contributed to a classic Australian sense of identity.[5]

After the war he made a film about a pioneer family in Queensland, Sons of Matthew (1949), drawing on his own family history, and in 1955 made perhaps his best known film, Jedda. Jedda is a story of an Aboriginal baby girl raised by a white station owner and kept in ignorance of traditional ways, and the Aboriginal man who carries her off, even though this is a forbidden "wrong way" marriage, and brings tragedy to both of them.

Both films involved travel to remote areas and difficult conditions for filming, and are considered Chauvel's best works.[8][9] Jedda was the first Australian feature film made in colour, and had to be developed overseas as there were no colour processing facilities in Australia.[10] For Jedda, the Chauvels sought out Aboriginal people for the lead roles, and in Robert Tudawali, playing the male lead, they found someone with great natural ability. Both these films were made in a period when the Australian film industry had virtually collapsed, unable to compete with imported films.[10]

Final years and death[edit]

After this, Chauvel turned to television, making the BBC series Walkabout which travelled to interesting locations in Australia. He died unexpectedly of coronary vascular disease in 1959. According to Ken G. Hall, Chauvel had left a message asking to speak to Hall on the day he died, and left an estate worth ₤32,000.[11]

Legacy[edit]

Since 1992 the Brisbane International Film Festival has awarded a Chauvel Award to a "distinguished contributor to Australian Cinema".

An art-house cinema, the Chauvel Cinema, in the suburb of Paddington, Sydney is named after him.

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1920 Robbery Under Arms actor directed by Kenneth Brampton
1920 The Shadow of Lightning Ridge actor directed by Wilfred Lucas
1920 The Jackeroo of Coolabong actor directed by Wilfred Lucas
1922 Captain Fly-By-Night actor
1922 The Man from the Desert actor
1923 Strangers of the Night actor
1926 The Moth of Moonbi director / producer / screenwriter
1926 Greenhide director / producer / screenwriter
1933 In the Wake of the Bounty director / producer / screenwriter
1935 Heritage director / producer / screenwriter
1936 Uncivilised director / producer / screenwriter
1936 Rangle River screenwriter (with Elsa Chauvel) directed by Clarence G. Badger
1937 Screen Test director / producer
1940 Forty Thousand Horsemen director / producer / screenwriter
1942 Soldiers Without Uniform director / producer documentary short
1942 Power to Win director / producer documentary short
1943 A Mountain Goes to Sea director / producer documentary short
1943 While There is Still Time director / producer documentary short
1943 Russia Aflame director / producer documentary short
1944 The Rats of Tobruk director / producer / screenwriter
1949 Sons of Matthew director / producer / screenwriter
1955 Jedda director / producer / screenwriter

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1958 Australian Walkabout director / producer / screenwriter produced for the ABC and BBC

Unmade projects[edit]

Chauvel announced a number of projects over the years that were not made, including:[12]

  • Conflict – a project for which Chauvel registered scripts in 1930[13] and 1933[14]
  • adaptation of the novel Geoffrey Hamlyn about early Australian pioneers[15]
  • a script called The Man from Down Under which Chauvel registered in 1941[16]
  • adaptation of the novel My Love Must Wait by Ernestine Hill about the life of Matthew Flinders – Chauvel claimed he paid a record price for an Australian novel to get the rights[17] and gave a copy of the novel to Laurence Olivier during his 1948 tour of Australia in an attempt to interest him in playing Flinders[18]
  • the life of boxer Les Darcy starring Tommy Burns[19]
  • adaptation of the novel When Cobb and Co Was King by Will Lawson[20]
  • adaptation of the novel Wards of the Outer March by Kathleen Glasson Taylor, a story of convict-bushranger days[21]'
  • wartime documentary about the wool industry.[22]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Search birth historical records". Queensland Government. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Starr, Joan (1988), Moreton Shire Queensland : discovery and settlement, Southern Cross PR and Press Services, ISBN 978-0-9588021-0-9 
  3. ^ "Harrisville & District". Ipswich City Council. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Society of Cinemaland Nye, Myra. Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 June 1928: C27.
  5. ^ a b c d F. Pike, "Chauvel, Charles Edward (1897–1959)", Australian Dictionary of Biography
  6. ^ a b Curators notes at Australian Screen
  7. ^ National Film and Sound Archive title details for In the Wake of the Bounty
  8. ^ Dunn, M. How They Made Sons of Matthew Sydney, 1949
  9. ^ Charles Chauvel spotlight at the National Film and Sound Archive
  10. ^ a b Charles Chauvel at Australian Screen (by Peter Dyer)
  11. ^ Philip Taylor, "Ken G. Hall", Cinema Papers January 1974, p. 86
  12. ^ Stuart Cunningham Featuring Australia: The cinema of Charles Chauvel North Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1991 pp. 139–140
  13. ^ Copyright registration of script at National Archives of Australia
  14. ^ Copyright registration of script at National Archives of Australia
  15. ^ "AUSTRALIAN FILMS.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 22 January 1927. p. 12. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  16. ^ Copyright registration at National Archives of Australia
  17. ^ "Record Price for Novel". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842–1954) (National Library of Australia). 11 May 1946. p. 4. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  18. ^ "Ernestine Hill Book May Be Film". The Mail (Adelaide, SA:1912–1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 11 September 1948. p. 1. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  19. ^ "Burns in Film Role As Darcy". Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW: 1888– 1954) (Broken Hill, NSW: National Library of Australia). 25 September 1947. p. 7. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  20. ^ "Five Films by Chauvel". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842–1954) (National Library of Australia). 21 June 1946. p. 11. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  21. ^ "Introducing Dorothy ("Claudia") McGuire.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia). 10 June 1944. p. 8. Retrieved 12 February 2012. 
  22. ^ "WOOL INDUSTRY FILM.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 5 September 1941. p. 6. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Susanne Chauvel Carlsson Charles and Elsie Chauvel Movie Pioneers Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1989.
  • Charles Chauvel Heritage Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1935.
  • Charles Chauvel In the wake of ‘’The Bounty’’ from Tahiti to Pitcairn Island Sydney: Endeavour Press, 1933
  • Charles and Elsa Chauvel Walkabout London: W H Allen, 1959.
  • Elsa Chauvel My Life with Charles Chauvel (Sydney: 1973).
  • Stuart Cunningham Featuring Australia: The cinema of Charles Chauvel North Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1991.
  • Elyne Mitchell Chauvel Country: the Story of a pioneering Australian family Melbourne: 1983.
  • Neil McDonald Damien Parer's War Melbourne: Lothian Books 1991 (War photographer Damein Parer spent time as one of Chauvel’s crew on Uncivilised and Forty Thousand Horsemen.)
  • Eric Reade The Talkies Era: a pictorial history of Australian sound filmmaking 1930–1960 Melbourne: Landsdowne Press, 1972.
  • Charles Chauvel at Australian screen

External links[edit]