The original Thorn EMI VHS release pitched on the front of the slick “For both of them, life had become a habit - until they met”, and “An acclaimed award-winning team of artists combine their talents for a superb motion picture”.

The back slick offered a short synopsis:

Rob McGregor (Bryan Brown) the owner of an inner-city bookshop hears of the suicide of Lisa Blaine, an old girlfriend.

While tracing the events surrounding her death, he meets a prostitute, Lou (Judy Davis), a close friend of Lisa’s and like her a junkie. Initially Rob is interested in what Lou can tell him about Lisa, but also she arouses his curiosity. What to Rob is a casual interest, however, becomes something much more significant for Lou. She visits him in the newly-renovated house he shares with his wife Gretel (Cathy Downes) and is mystified by their open marriage. Rob is totally different from the men she is familiar with - attractive, sensitive, worldly - and apparently quite non-judgemental of her. At the same time, she is reading a diary Lisa kept of the period she was involved with Rob more than ten years ago - in the heady days of the late sixties when he was a radical student leader. Like Lisa, she too falls in love with him.

But there is no place for Lou in Rob’s world. While he would like to help her, he finds her growing attentions tiresome. More subtly, he is increasingly reminded both of Lisa and of the way he himself has changed in the last decade. The relationship begins to follow the pattern of the earlier one, and, it seems, may end just as tragically.

The much later Umbrella DVD release stuck with the VHS log line, but added “AFI Award Best Actress in a Lead Role 1981” and a quote “Endlessly expressive … a richly cinematic experience” - Los Angeles Times, followed by another quote on the back cover: An intensely dramatic portrait of inner-suburban life, Winter of Our Dreams is "…a subdued, intelligent, thoughtful film…” (David Stratton) exploring the limits of love and the strength to survive.

The synopsis was also short, but emphasised the film’s AFI performance:

Rob McGregor (Bryan Brown, Breaker Morant, Beautiful Kate) is the charismatic owner of a popular Paddington bookshop living an open marriage with his academic wife Gretel (Cathy Downes, Monkey Grip), still holding onto the 60s spirit of ‘free love’. While Gretel is pursuing an affair, Rob learns of the death of Lisa Blaine, a friend from the days they were both student activists more than a decade earlier.

While seeking the reasons behind Lisa’s suicide, Rob comes in contact with her friend Lou (Judy Davis, My Brilliant Career, Eye of the Storm), a prostitute and heroin user wrestling with her own personal demons.

From very different worlds, the two are drawn together, and when Rob rallies Lou to free herself from her drug addiction she temporarily moves into his house to go ‘cold turkey’, adding further strains to his already complicated life. But as their friendship develops, ever closer parallels emerge with Rob’s earlier relationship with Lisa Blaine, and he is forced to examine his own motives, and to recognise the very different road his life has travelled since his days as a radical student.

Nominated for 7 AFI Awards - winning for Judy Davis’ outstanding performance and presented in a restored widescreen transfer, Winter Of Our Dreams is written and directed by internationally acclaimed filmmaker John Duigan (Sirens, The Year My Voice Broke) and also features the screen debut of an eighteen-year old Baz Luhrmann.

(For an alternative synopsis, with spoilers and a few more cast details, see this site’s ‘about the movie’ section).

Writers:
Exec producers:
DOPs:
Production Designers:
Art Directors:
Composers:
Editors:

Production Details

Production company: Vega Film Productions Pty Ltd, made in association with the Australian Film Commission, G.U.O. Film Distributors, Spectrum Films and Winta Investments. The film was an early example of the 10B/10BA tax break at work, with two Sydney stockbroking firms Hattersley & Maxwell and Jones, and Grice & Co, tipping their clients into the film (they also helped finance Phil Noyce's Heatwave, and Gillian Armstrong's Star Struck).

Budget: $350,000 (Murray's Australian Film); $362,000, director John Duigan, July-August 1981 Cinema Papers; $320,000 (Stratton's The Avocado Plantation)

Locations: Sydney, including Circular Quay, Balmain, Kings Cross, Long Nose point, Birchgrove; the bookstore owned by Bryan Brown's character was in Oxford street and briefly famous amongst poets as the Exiles bookshop. The tennis courts were in Louisa Road, Birchgrove, and are still there at time of writing, and were close to the main house featured in the shoot, while a scene featuring a couple of nude sun-baking young women was shot on the point, just below the the house. A dock scene was filmed at Woolloomooloo. The Long Nose ferry wharf (later the Birchgrove ferry wharf) was sometimes also known as the Proclaim, after a 1939 charter boat built by Morrison and Sinclair at Longnose Point. 

Filmed: summer 1981; according to David Stratton, there were three weeks of rehearsal and five weeks of filming (in those days shoots were six day weeks). Director Duigan put the shoot at six weeks in a Cinema Papers' interview and considered it a luxury.

Australian distributor: GUO 

Theatrical release: the film was released in Melbourne at the Russell on the 31st July 1981, followed by a release in Sydney at the Pitt Centre on 24th September 1981

Video release: Thorn EMI

Rating: M (June 1981, 2,454.14m)

35mm      Eastmancolor    cameras and lenses by Panavision ®

Running time: 89 minutes (Cinema Papers, Murray's Australian Film, Filmnews) (at the time of release, according to Murray's Australian Film, AFC press notes listed the film as 93 minutes, 2551m)

Umbrella DVD time:1'25"50

Box office: 

Considering the budget, the film was a modest box office success, and it had a long run in the major cities in Australia on the art house circuit. No doubt some of this came from the appeal of the key cast and the awards the film received, but at the same time, word of mouth could have killed the box office if it had been negative.

According to the Film Victoria report on Australian box office, the film did $959,000 business, equivalent to $3,107,160 in A$2009, domestic business (when Movie Marshall did its listing of top Australian films in December 2008, this was enough to put the film at position 169 in the list of all time Australian-made box office grossers).

The film also was given a relatively wide release in the United States. No doubt the key cast also helped here - both 'Breaker' Morant and My Brilliant Career had paved the way - and while it wasn't a substantial commercial success, it was liked by some.

In an interview in The Sydney Morning Herald on 1st December 1986, director John Duigan put it modestly:

"Probably the films that have done financially well were Winter of Our Dreams, Mouth to Mouth and Far East," he said. "They have not been blockbusters but they have been reasonably successful at the box office and overseas."

 

Opinion

Awards

The film picked up a respectable number of nominations at the 1981 AFI Awards, but this was the year Peter Weir's Gallipoli steamrollered the opposition, with Judy Davis the only winner for Winter:

Winner, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Judy Davis) (Davis also won 'Best Supporting Actress' for Hoodwink)

Nominated, Best Film (Richard Mason) (Robert Stigwood and Patricial Lovell won for Gallipoli)

Nominated, Best Achievement in Directing (John Duigan) (Peter Weir won for Gallipoli)

Nominated, Best Screenplay (John Duigan) (David Williamson won for Gallipoli) (This award included 'original' and 'adapted')

Nominated, Best Sound (Lloyd Carrick, Andrew Steuart, Phil Judd, Phil Hayward) (Don Connolly, Greg Bell and Peter Fenton won for Gallipoli)

Nominated, Best Achievement in Art Direction (Lee Whitmore) (Herbert Pinter and Wendy Weir won for Gallipoli)

Nominated, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Cathy Downes) (Judy Davis won for Hoodwink)

The Moscow Film Festival, in July 1983, also awarded its best actress prize jointly to Jessica Lange for her role in Frances and to Judy Davis for her role in Winter of our Dreams. By dint of being selected and in competition, the film was in the running for best film, but Moroccan film Amoc shared that prize with the Nicaraguan film Alcion and the Condor and the Soviet film Vassa.

Judy Davis also won the best film actress for the Sammys in August 1981, with the double - best for AFI and Sammys - used to promote the film. Davis also won the strangely named "Gold Woman" award (Michael Parkinson was the "Gold Man")

Cathy Downes won "Best supporting film actress" in the same Sammys awards. 

Director John Duigan mentions in his DVD commentary that Judy Davis also won best actress at the Saint Petersburg Film Festival.

Duigan himself won an Awgie at the 1982 Australian Writers' Guild award for best 'film original' screenplay.

The film also did an extensive tour of the festival circuit.


Availability

The film had a long life on VHS, but copies became increasingly rare to find, though they did circulate amongst collectors, quality contingent on source.

This was made redundant by Umbrella releasing the film on DVD in region four, in 16:9, 1.85:1 format, once again acting as home archivists for Australian cinema.

The image is generally good, with rich colours - director Duigan, DOP Tom Cowan and designer Lee Whitmore aimed at bright primary colours for their palette. There is plenty of grain and noise on view, but then Cowan did available light filming with fast lenses, and this look helps the realism of a film as it contraststhe seamy side of Kings Cross life with a well-off harbour-side community.

There is some intermittent neg scratching (showing up as white) and some dirt, but as usual, the film hasn't looked this good since its original release.

For extras, there's only a slightly soft but correct format 1'50" trailer and a commentary track by director John Duigan, who says the commentary was done 32 years after the film was shot.

Duigan makes an elusive companion, rather like the fugitive, fleeting emotions in the film. There are a number of pauses - perhaps they could be called meditative silences - and while he understands he should be conveying some trivia about the film and the people in it, it's clear that he's mainly interested in the ideas and the emotions in the film, and so he spends a considerable amount of time commenting on the action. Some will find this redundant, others will find it a useful way to clarify what the director was intending when he made the film.

While some will find the film too moody, atmospheric and melancholy, anyone interested in Judy Davis or Bryan Brown, or the decay of radicalism into suburban gentility and open marriages, will be handsomely rewarded. This is surely the best of Davis's performances from her early years, and while Brown's work was under-appreciated, he holds his own - the film would have become unbalanced if he hadn't managed to provide a solid springboard for Davis's quirky intensity.

This is the first time director John Duigan managed to mesh his interest in the middle class (as in his earlier film The Trespassers) with the lumpenproletariat (as in Mouth to Mouth), with his move from Melbourne resulting in a visually interesting celebration of Sydney ...

For anyone who prefers to watch a few short clips, rather than the actual feature, the ASO has three clips here, but each clip was chosen for its PG content, a pity for an M rated film intent on exploring adult themes in relation to sex, drugs, life and the whole damn thing.

1. Source:

Winter of our Dreams came about after a difficult time for its writer-director John Duigan.

His previous film, Dimboola, had been a notable flop, and it represented a final parting of the ways for Duigan with the Melbourne-based alternative theatrical group, the APG, at the Pram Factory in Carlton.

Duigan attempted to get funding for the development of other screenplays from government funding bodies, but as he explained in a Cinema Papers' interview, July-August 1981, the projects met a frosty reception:

...I guess that film (Dimboola) was damaging to their reception.

Generally, the scripts were about political subjects. One of them was about the ethics of violence as a political weapon in advanced Western democracies. It told the story of a woman who had been involved with a group like the Red Army Fraction (sic, Faction) in Germany, and who had come to Australia on a false passport after her lover was killed when a bomb he had been planting exploded prematurely.

The woman was someone who no longer believed in the usefulness or ethical validity of that sort of tactic in the particular circumstances of an affluent Western democracy. Thus, she was burned by having participated in an action she now regarded as immoral, yet which had resulted in the death of someone she loved. However, despite this, she was still searching for an alternative form of political expression.

That was a project for which I was unable to get money. I submitted it to a number of film bodies and did a great swag of drafts

...I had another script dealing with a communal household fighting a local council which wanted to knock down a building in their street. The building was being used as a meeting place by a group of pensioners and by the youth in the area as a dance hall. That was another low-budget film and also unsuccessful in finding funds.

Then there was a screenplay about uranium which was a more overtly political film. That was also unsuccessful. There was a period when I was developing and rewriting a number of scripts. In all, I put up about 20 applications to various bodies before I got The Winter of our Dreams accepted. (According to David Stratton, one of the scripts was called Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain, the project about the European anti-nuclear campaigner coming to Australia and meeting a 1960s radical turned yuppie). 

All these strands and heretical thoughts came together in the development of Winter of our Dreams, which merges the middle class observations of Duigan's too wordy earlier film The Trespassers, with the down and out lifestyles he evoked in Mouth to Mouth (which also included prostitution as a theme).

In the end, the other earlier, rejected scripts proved useful:

Winter of our Dreams actually derived from some of those earlier scripts. The male character, for example, is indirectly related to one of the characters in the script about terrorism. The whole thing came as a breakthrough in another script I was writing. I decided that the main female character should die at the beginning of the film and that her presence, or rather her death, is the trigger for events that then take place. (Cinema Papers, as above)

Duigan accepted that there was some continuity between Carrie in Mouth to Mouth and Lou in Winter of our Dreams, but not much:

They are both outsiders living on the edge of society, but otherwise the similarity between them is solely in terms of how they earn a living. Carrie was starting to work in massage parlors in Mouth to Mouth - though that was a small part of the film's canvas - and Lou is a prostitute. So, there is that occupational connection.

But in terms of their characters, I think they are quite different. Carrie had a much stronger sense of self-preservation and self-orientation. Lou is more a mosaic of bits and pieces of behaviour she has observed in people who have impressed her. She welds these elements into an amorphous and fluctuating whole. Carrie is more consistent and more directed by her ambitions. She would end up very different to Lou, just in terms of the type of person she is …

But Duigan did acknowledge a political continuity between the script and his previous work:

Political comment in films and books can take a variety of forms. The script I wrote about the terrorist was obviously quite overt in its political approach. this film I see as no less political, though it operates in a different way.

What I am in part doing here is attempting to examine representatives of a generation who were once allegedly radical, or who once paid lip-service to radical ideas, and to see where they have gone. In part, it is an indictment of educated middle-class people. Because of their various advantages, they have the greatest potential for generating social change. So, while the approach is more indirect, it is no less political. (Cinema Papers, as above)

In the DVD commentary, Duigan explains some of the themes he sought to explore in his script:

Some of the themes of the film are probably becoming apparent here (the film at this point had reached the moment where Judy Davis is threatened by youths on a ferry).

The starting point for me with the script was the idea of examining characters who had their formative period in the late 1960s early 1970s. In Australia just as in the United States the country was bitterly divided over the military involvement in the Vietnam war, but this was also a period when prevailing values were questioned on all sorts of levels, in the areas of politics, religion, the family, sexual politics, feminism, homosexuality, and there was widespread experimentation with drugs, free love, communal living and so on … Rob's character was a student radical, a political activist, something of a firebrand and Lisa Blaine whose life we learn about incrementally was a casualty of the period The film works on a number of levels I think and I'll talk about a second significant theme a little  later on 

And later on in the film, Duigan comments on the second theme that's coming to fruition:

...The unwitting effects that can result from when a charismatic and attractive individual allows someone wrongly to believe they've got close to them. In Rob's case when Lisa Blaine's attentions became something of an irritant, he simply shrugged her off. In trying to find out about Lisa Blaine's death, we can see that Rob may have retrospectively felt some responsibility for it, and yet the pattern is repeating itself with Lou …

Perhaps Rob is starting to understand something of this and what it says about him as a person  and perhaps it's also triggering an awareness of just how much he's changed since the halcyon days of 1970 as he sits amongst a group of his fellow former student radicals, still mouthing the echoes of their skin-deep revolutionary cliches. They are the old Balmain Trots or Trotskyists and the opposing team are the Mensheviks  ... (DVD commentary)

Failed dreams, lost hopes, lost ambitions, imaginings of what might have been but will never be, comfortable compromises that aren't so comfortable as to hide a nagging sense of other, Winter of our Dreams is an incredibly sad film, full of yearnings. It's a measure of Judy Davis's performance that the final close up of her in inner emotional turmoil is still moving though the years have not been so kind to Jeannie Lewis or the song that makes overly explicit - in the way of many early Duigan films - the emotional intent of the folkie director …

The important question for many viewers is what happens to Davis after the movie ends. Will she kill herself, like her friend Lisa? Or does she live on?

Duigan, in his DVD commentary, is non-committal, and asks the audience to join in the scripting:

It's up to the audience to decide whether she will share her friend's fate or continue climbing out of the cul de sac her life had become …

To me these last images provide on balance an optimistic view as to what may happen to Lou but the film leaves that issue unresolved … I was content to let the camera just sit on Judy here as she finishes the film's journey 

In the DVD commentary Duigan mentions that he asked Margie McCrae, the actress who played Lisa, to write Lisa's diary.

According to Duigan, she wrote her character's diary in great deal, allowing Duigan to focus on it from time to time in the film.

Some of the photos of McCrae used to evoke Lisa's past life came from McCrae's own past activities.

2. Production:

(a) Sydney:

Duigan committed an act of treason which shocked certain Melbourne traditionalists. He left the dour grey city to live in the emerald-harboured Sydney:

I felt I had been living in Melbourne long enough. I wanted a change and thought of Sydney because I like the beach. There are additional benefits, of course, like the fact that the laboratories and most of the equipment-hiring services are in Sydney. The locations are also varied and Sydney is a much more photogenic city than Melbourne …

The result in Winter of our Dreams is a kind of hymn to the charms of inner Sydney, with an eye for the more down and out parts like Kings Cross and more up scale peninsula suburbs such as Birchgrove and Balmain, adjacent to the harbour.

Sydney also had the advantage of being home to the Australian Film Commission - which put money into Winter of our Dreams … and additionally:

...the New South Wales Film Corporation has a much larger budget than the Victorian Film Corporation. Those things make a difference. There are also a lot more actors and technicians up here.

I think there will be a tendency to centralize in Sydney. In most countries there is probably only one large filmmaking centre. In the U.S., most of it is in Los Angeles, though there is a certain amount done in New York …

Ironically Judy Davis would later end up living in Birchgrove and Bryan Brown would also move to the Balmain area.

Duigan's sister Virginia (who appears in the film) lived with her partner on the street running down to Long Nose point, and so Duigan knew came to know the area very well after moving from Melbourne (though Duigan doesn't mention it in his DVD commentary, he too once purchased a property in the Balmain area).

(b) Producer Richard Mason:

Mason had worked for many years at Film Australia as director and producer, and when he landed in Sydney, Duigan was short of contacts, as he explained in his July-August 1971 interview in Cinema Papers:

… When I came up to Sydney towards the end of last year, I had just finished the script and decided to approach the producer. I talked to Richard Brennan about who was available, as the producers I had worked with before were all tied up. Richard recommended Dick Mason as he felt we shared similar interests, particularly in the political field. Fortunately, Dick liked the script.

Dick then got the thing off the ground very quickly. He has a very strong artistic commitment and contribution to make to the project, as well as his role as an overall administrator, which he does very well.

Duigan and Mason would later go on to work on a number of other feature films together, such as the nuclear themed One Night Stand.

The film was shot at the cusp of the 10B/10BA tax rort days that helped finance the industry in the 1980s, and to avoid the sudden crush, the film had to go into production quickly:

We needed to go into production early for a number of reasons. One was the availability of the cast; they had commitments, Judy in particular.

Also, there was availability of crew. We were sensitive to this sudden rush of production, and if we had waited we would have been struggling to compete with the offers that some of the larger production films would have been able to make to members of our crew …

(c)  The Shoot:

The film was a typically small scale Duigan production:

We had four people more than on Mouth to Mouth. There was an extra person in the art department, a unit runner, a second assistant and a clapper-loader. We had to shoot fairly quickly, as it was a tight schedule for six weeks. But, again, that was a bonus for me, as I did Mouth to Mouth in four weeks, Dimboola in five and The Trespassers in four. I was able to give much more detailed coverage than I had before …

The film was however a step up, in that Duigan's previous 'realist' films had been on 16mm - the comedy Dimboola had been shot on widescreen Panavision 35mm, but there Duigan had been working for the APG, without final script approval.

Here he was able to apply Panavision cameras and lenses to a more personal film, and DOP Tom Cowan was able to use the super speed Panavision lenses to work with available light in the Sydney Kings Cross street scenes …

For a film like Winter of our Dreams, 35mm is much more appropriate. The central part of the film is in Rob and Gretel's home, which is a huge house in Birchgrove, overlooking the Harbour. The shooting style here is quite different to that used in Lou's world - graceful, long tracking shots. It needs the sharp, clean look 35mm can give.

(d) The Cast:

Duigan managed to attract as his key cast two names who were then very hot in terms of Australian film:

I wanted Judy for Lou after seeing her in Water Under the Bridge and My Brilliant Career, although Winter of our Dreams is very different territory. She has a great energy level which makes her compelling to watch and she is extremely versatile. She has a great energy level which makes her compelling to watch and she is extremely versatile. Bryan has been involved with a number of good films, and I had for some time been wanting to work with him.

Judy and Bryan have very different approaches to acting, but both have marvellous levels of concentrating and will turn on sustained performances over multiple takes, giving just as much in their off-screen reverses as their on-screen lines - which is great for whoever's playing opposite them. I think that reveals a lot about their professionalism. Judy, for example, also moved into the Cross and spent a good deal of time going around the area talking to prostitutes and heroin users. (Cinema Papers, as above)

Davis had, early in her career, established herself to some as a prickly, difficult performer (she particularly didn't like doing My Brilliant Career) but she learned on Winter to relax:

I have learnt - and it is so much a personal thing - not to be so introverted. On Winter of our Dreams, everybody was involved. The crew was very sympathetic, warm and generous. I didn't actually look at them during a scene, but they were there; they were included in my reality. I didn't pretend they weren't there. They didn't intrude on my concentration.

The crew felt this, too. At no point would they have felt excluded. It is real trust and terribly important for film work, because you are so close. But I didn't understand that on Career. But then you can't understand that until you have grown that way as a person. I am more generous now. I have learnt to be more open and not so precious about myself. (Cinema Papers, interview May-June 1981)

Davis even felt comfortable enough to ask director Duigan to reshoot a scene, after watching her performance during rushes and deciding it didn't work:

Perhaps what happens is that actors get a little intimidated and feel they haven't the right to say what they think, or make suggestions. But it is important for actors to feel that they are as much a part of the project as the director and the cameraman - as opposed to merely feeling employed. Actors mustn't be unnecessarily submissive, because they are important. Mind you, there is the master ringman, who is the director, and you can't interfere with that.

Obviously, John is exceptionally receptive to that way of thinking. But he is not the only one. Most directors I want to work with would be the same. (Cinema Papers, May-June 1981)

In the same interview, Davis disavowed any desire to be patriotic or nationalistic in her choice of roles:

… I am just interested in  human relationships, wherever they take place.

I must admit I am more interested in what happens between people than I am in making films which try to sort out things about Australia, or make statements about what it is to be Australian. I am much more interested in what one person does to another and what they do in retaliation.

Then again, Winter of our Dreams is very much about what is happening in Sydney to people on the fringe of society. And that really interests and disturbs me personally. I loved doing that film. But, again, I would be just as interested if if was about drug addicts in New York.

In staying true to character and situation, the film was also the first and one of the rare times that Davis removed her top for a film, as she acknowledged to the Australian Women's Weekly, 25th March 1981:

"Initially it was a bit nerveracking. Unless it's absolutely necessary I'd personally rather not. The least interesting way to explore erotism is to take your clothes off. Maybe if I wore a bikini every weekend I'd be more used to it. We are too self-conscious about our bodies but I think you've got to be careful about that in films - it gets so boring." Why is she so serious?

"I'm serious because of my job. But I have moments of great pith and moment - to quote Shakespeare. I don't take life seriously but if I'm doing something, it's got to be done right. I'm obviously serious about my script or I might be handed a real egg. I always believe people should be able to make suggestions and the more power I get, the more I can do that."

Looking back in an interview in Cinema Papers, September 1985, Bryan Brown expressed a genuine fondness for all his film characters to that point in his career.

Brown had faced some difficult moments from critics for the role of Rob in the film, and the film is designed - according to director Duigan - to subtly transfer sympathy away from Brown's character, slumped in the football changing room, to Davis's character, displaying a range of internalised emotions at a demonstration, but Brown stayed loyal to the role:

About Rob McGregor, his character from Winter of Our Dreams, Brown speaks at length, almost in Rob's defence.

"People have said to me, "'What a cold bastard, what a rotten way he treated the girl!' But I knew exactly what the character was on about. Here was a man who, in his early twenties, had been a passionate radical, then started to live a more middle-class, comfortable life. The death of someone he knew back then sparks off a sort of reappraisal. He would never have picked himself ten years later being in this position. Then the character of Lou (Judy Davis) - a prostitute and drug addict, living on the raw edge of life - makes him feel this rawness coming out again, and that became stimulating to be around, but not because he was in love with the girl. He didn't want to lead her on. Everyone took advantage of her except him. He gave her respect."

As Rob McGregor never anticipated living the sort of life in which he found himself ten years later, how does Bryan Brown feel about his last ten years? "Ten years ago, I was acting. I'm still acting. That's a bit surprising: I always thought I'd get found out! I think most actors do. You think they'll find out I'm no good. Later on, you think: 'I'm probably quite good at things, but why don't they use someone else anyway?'  I've been acting for thirteen years now, but only in the last couple of years have I come to the conclusion that I'll probably be acting in another twenty!" 

The other main actress in the film is Cathy Downes who plays Gretel, and who received a 'best supporting' AFI nomination for her first film role.

According to director Duigan:

... I tested fairly exhaustively for this part and it is Cathy's first film appearance. She is known for her portrait of Kathryn Mansfield in the play of the same name, which she wrote and performed. She is a really effective contrast to Judy. (Downes was originally from New Zealand).

The other significant cast member is the first, and only substantial screen appearance by Baz Luhrmann, who would give up acting to focus on directing.

He was 17 at the time and something of a novice. Duigan says in the DVD commentary that, knowing Lurhmann was inexperienced, he rehearsed his scenes with Judy Davis a lot and she was very supportive.

In the usual Duigan way, there are some personal touches in the casting. His sister, Virginia Duigan, briefly appears as Sylvia, a woman who introduces a feminist author at a book launch, and the actor who plays Judy Davis's pimp - John Smythe - had directed a couple of plays in which Duigan had acted when studying philosophy at the University of Melbourne a few years before the making of Winter.

Amongst the Trotskyite footballers can be seen Bill Garner (who had played a leading role in Duigan's Dimboola), and Martin Harris, and there's also a brief sighting of Robert Hughes,who would much later be a TV sitcom star in Hey Dad! and be convicted on child sex abuse charges.

Duigan himself played the newsreader announcing on the radio the discovery of Lisa's body in the harbour - partly to save money and partly because he enjoyed doing it (he claims to have done a herd of stampeding cows in another film)

The cast also worked cheaply, out of commitment to the project, as Duigan explained in his Cinema Papers, July August 1981 interview:

People like Judy and Bryan would always choose to do a project they liked and accept the level of pay the production could afford; that is the sort of people they are. 

When asked about whether she'd prefer to do a film role for $50,000 or for $5,000 in Winter of our Dreams, Davis implicityly indicated the sort of fees on offer when she responded in her Cinema Papers, May-June 1981 interview:

What's the point of doing something that is shit for $50,000. It might mean that you will never get a job again. And once you have turned down a big salary, because you didn't think the project worthwhile, it is easy to do so again.

Also, bear in mind that I don't have children or a husband. I don't have angry great responsibilities. That absolutely changes an actor's position. I am very lucky. 

(e) The crew:

The film was under some pressure because of the boom in production and an increase in the wages on offer to crew, as Duigan noted:

The crew was probably drawn to the project for a number of reasons. Some were attracted by the script and were perhaps keen to work with the leading cast, others were old friends of Dick Mason's, and people like Tom Cowan and Lloyd Carrick I have worked with regularly for years. While the rates of pay we offered were, of course, above union minimum, they were nothing like what will be paid on most other productions this year.

The decision of crew members to work on Winter was an expression of commitment to the project and, I think in particular, to Dick Mason.

The atmosphere generated by the crew and cast was terribly good on this film; it was the best I have experienced. I hope to have the opportunity of working with a lot of them again. Most of the crew will be doing one production after another for the rest of this year. But I think they enjoyed the intimacy the small unit size gave us.

Obviously, there are important creative reasons for doing a film like this with a small crew. It takes a little of the pressure away from the actors by producing a quieter, less manic atmosphere in which the actors can perform. On a film like Winter of our Dreams, which depends so drastically on the performances, this is vitally important. (Cinema Papers, as above)

One of the advantages of this low budget structure was that Duigan had the chance to continue his working relationship with DOP Tom Cowan.

Together with designer Lee Whitmore, they opted for a palette with very bright colours. Duigan liked having this juxtaposition with his characters, rather than say using a muted greys and blues palette.

Duigan thought the vitality of the colours complemented the vitality of the characters in spite of their situations - citing Judy Davis's body language, slouched posture and ungainly movements, and bird like gestures.

The appointment of Whitmore as designer was also a plus. Whitmore designed the hallucinogenic paintings on the walls of Lisa's flat, which evokes her state of mind at the start of the film, but then return to haunt Judy Davis's character near the end of the film.

Whitmore also found the painting of a solitary figure on the beach which figures in some framings in the film (though Duigan doesn't identify the painter in his DVD commentary). 

(f) Trivia:

  • The film within the film, seen on a black and white portable AWA "deep image" television, is Tom Jeffrey's The Odd Angry Shot, the feature film about Australians in Vietnam. It's used to suggest that to members of Pete's (Baz Lurhmann) generation, Vietnam is a faded memory. Duigan suggests that they are largely oblivious to that period and Pete dismisses the film as being just about some war;
  • In another period reminder, the game show featured on the television is Tony Barber in Sale of the Century (a contestant answers correctly that arachnophobia is a fear of spiders);
  • The black pyjamas on show in the film came from director Duigan's time doing street theatre for the La Mama company. The actors wore the black peasant outfits while re-enacting atrocities performed at Vietnam moratoriums in 1970 and 1971;
  • Director John Duigan had the character Rob (Bryan Brown) play chess on a computerised board as a way of emphasising the solitary and isolated nature of the character, but it is also likely to have been the first time this activity turned up in an Australian feature film;
  • The unit had to pay street prostitutes by the hour to use their particular patches in Kings Cross. Judy Davis researched the lift of heroin-addicted prostitutes by spending a number of nights with them, getting to know them, talking about their life and times, and how they worked. She was able to observe one of them shooting up, and watched the effect of the drug, which she replicates effectively in the film. She and Duigan also researched the effect of an addict going cold turkey;
  • The anti-uranium demonstration featured in the film was in fact based on a real demonstration that became a permanent fixture in Sydney for a number of months;
  • Judy Davis is shown nibbling from a little tube. This is actually Nestlé condensed milk, designed to show the character's taste for quick sugar hits;
  • Duigan wanted to use a Burmese cat observing Lou partly as a way of making a point about the radical chic element in Rob (Bryan Brown's) life, as a well as a way of subjecting Davis's character to a remote and indifferent gaze.

3. Release: 

Considering the budget, the film was a modest box office success, and it had a long run in the major cities in Australia on the art house circuit (some sources say it had a five month run in Sydney; director John Duigan says it was a six month run). 

No doubt some of the film's appeal came from the key cast and the awards the film received - the film's publicity and posters in Australia traded heavily on moody shots of Judy Davis and the tagline "for both of them, life had become a habit - until they met", though in the United States the poster put Bryan Brown's bare chest front and centre, with an entirely misleading tagline that construed the film as a romance: A man. A woman. A moment. 

At the same time, word of mouth could have killed the box office potential if it had been negative, but the long domestic theatrical runs suggest the film captured its chosen audience - arthouse with a skew to the female demographic (though it is also impossible for many men to resist Judy Davis's tears and lingering, intense gaze to camera at the end of the film).

According to the Film Victoria report on Australian box office, the film did $959,000 business, equivalent to $3,107,160 in A$2009, domestic business (when Movie Marshall did its listing of top Australian films in December 2008, this was enough to put the film at position 169 in the list of all time Australian-made box office grossers).

This is more than presentable for a low budget film about a junkie prostitute and a Balmain book-selling leftie having a mid-life crisis.

The film also was given a relatively wide release in the United States. No doubt the key cast also helped here - both 'Breaker' Morant and My Brilliant Career had paved the way - and while it wasn't a substantial commercial success, it was liked by some.

In an interview in The Sydney Morning Herald on 1st December 1986, director John Duigan put it modestly:

"Probably the films that have done financially well were Winter of Our Dreams, Mouth to Mouth and Far East," he said. "They have not been blockbusters but they have been reasonably successful at the box office and overseas."

4. About the Film:

Being a John Duigan film, the emphasis isn't on the formal elements of film-making, but rather on the characters and what they and their interactions reveal about them, their lives and society at large.

As a result, the interview with Duigan in Cinema Papers, July-August 1981, focussed heavily on the characters and their implications - as does Duigan's DVD commentary.

Here are some excerpts from the interview, the first a response to a question about whether the characters, like the radicals of the 1960s, had "sold out" (a tricky question for Duigan, who had also moved on from his earlier moratorium radical days):

It is too easy to simply say the people who attended the moratoriums have sold out. The kind of momentum that a society like ours has is very difficult for people within it to assess accurately. It is hard to detach oneself long enough to take stock of what one is doing with one's life. In a way, the events of the film cause Rob to do just this: he is briefly dislocated from the mainstream of his life and glimpses its direction. There is a great diversity of pressures involved, and it would be too simple to condemn him out of hand.

With Rob and Gretel, I have attempted to draw people who reflect some of the diversity of influences and pressures that have occurred in the past 10 years. It is very important that the audience likes them and is aware that these people are complex, sensitive and committed in their own way. It is just that their commitment has, in a sense, become displaced.

If the film functions properly, there should be a gradual change in the audience's sympathies towards Lou. But it it's too great, the rest of the film will collapse.

When asked about the irony of a young girl complaining about the cost of an expensive art book in Rob's bookstore - he refuses to discount the book, like any sensible capitalist - Duigan noted that it was a film of ironies:

I am hoping, in the way the characters have been drawn and the way they are played, the irony of this kind of behaviour will be evident to the audience without it being too heavily pointed out. Likewise, the behaviour of Rob and Gretel is full of ironies.

There are many films that have been rather unsuccessful in making really telling criticisms of the middle class. It is very easy to send up the middle class and make it look ridiculous, but I think one is more likely to touch people if you can have them identifying with sympathetic characters who exhibit some of the contradictions and ironies that we live. An audience has far more room for personal examination if you allow it to engage itself with characters it likes. At the same time, it an also discover weaknesses …

I wanted to depict two people (Rob and Gretel in an open marriage) who were making this choice of lifestyle work reasonably successfully. It has become, in a sense, a preoccupation of theirs; it is, for example, a more important part of their mental life than anything political. Elements of jealousy and unease still remain, however.

The big difference between Rob and Gretel is that Gretel is someone whose life is fairly successful and goal-orientated. She is working as an academic and she likes her job; she has ambitions which are being realized. Rob, on the other hand, has no such rewarding job. He doesn't appear to be particularly interested or excited by running this bookshop.

At the same time, Rob's relationship with Lou revives the memories of the sort of direction that he could have taken had he made different choices when he was involved with Lisa. Rob has now opted for a different lifestyle, with its cerebal (sic) and rational approach to the world. But this rests rather uneasily with the more emotional, intuitive person he can still remember from university days, and can still feel inside. And the more Lou identifies with Lisa, the more Rob is confronted by those elements of his personality he has put in cold storage.

When asked about Rob's line to Gretel about Lou, "I think it's good she didn't get too close", Duigan sees it as being about him cutting himself off from others, but also trying to shut the door on his own past:

…Rob is very much making a choice to opt for a continuation of his present lifestyle, and to opt for a drier way of relating to the world. But, he is obviously hit in the guts by seeing Lou disintegrating in front of him. One could equally speculate that he might, after these events, choose to go somewhere quite different

As for some in the audience thinking that Lou might kill herself, like her model Lisa?

Well, it may be. The departing image of the film ties the general and particular elements of a major part of the film's theme. Lou is seen allied, or together at any rate, with this small group of people demonstrating against uranium. She has no real understanding of what they are, but the song some of them are singing seems to speak directly to her, although to the demonstrators it is a song about writing and change, and to hard-nosed intellectuals, perhaps, it is expressing some kind of naive amorphous "message".

But the little group of demonstrators are trying and, however cynical one might be of their likely effects, the attempt itself is important. For Lou, there is a sense of personal loss - of Lisa and Rob - but equally, there is the loss of idealism which Lisa felt - she went down to the demonstration the day she committed suicide - and which Rob has recognized in his final scene. As for what will happen to Lou, it is very much on the knife edge, although there is something positive in seeing her with the group …

Lou is someone who, by contrast to Rob and Gretel, operates on a very spontaneous and emotionally-vulnerable level. She is really at the mercy of a rationally-operating world which is increasingly reducing the mercy it shows for people who don't, or can't, play the game …

The polarity taking place in the West is increasing. On the headline level, it is indicated in the swing to the right, with the election of people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. There is emerging an unforgiving mood and a really aggressively self-centred approach by those who have the power and those who are in work …

One of the things that happened in the 1960s was the very strong emphasis on the individual contributing to social change through group activities. In the 1970s, people became increasingly preoccupied by personal issues, such as health and individual sexuality, and the exploration of esoteric religions. It was the time of going off and making your own little world: getting a plot of land and so on.

Allied with this was a feeling that things had got so big that individuals could no longer affect the way things were going. More and more, you hear people talking at dinner parties about the inevitability of a nuclear conflict. That is symptomatic not so much of a cynicism as a feeling that the activities and actions of the 1960s were rather naive in the face of the enormity of the problems, and the machinery that is up there.

There are many references to this sort of thing scattered within the film…They are just an atmosphere in which we are living, so they have their appropriate amount of time and focus in the film. The thrust of the film is simply happening within this framework ...

5. Production Designer Lee Whitmore:

Production designer Whitmore later went on to become an artist and animator, and at time of writing had her own website here.

Her biography provides these details, but there is also other material to explore on her site:

I spent hours as a young girl watching my father create illustrations for stories in the ‘Woman’s Weekly’. I watched him mix colours and lay beautiful washes on pencil drawings. I learnt all about making pictures that tell stories. When I grew up it was only a small step for me to imagine making ‘moving pictures’ that tell my own stories.

In 1974 I married the writer Mark Stiles. In the same year I enrolled in a theatre design course at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. I moved from painting and illustrating children’s books to getting involved in small theatre groups and architecture revues. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was designing short films with friends. So began my involvement in performance and film.

My first major task was as graphic artist in the art department on the feature NEWSFRONT (1978) directed by Phillip Noyce. I found it to be so much fun as everyone was pitching in doing whatever had to be done. Other short films followed including work as production designer on two feature films: STIR (1979) directed by Stephen Wallace, and THE WINTER OF OUR DREAMS (1980) directed by John Duigan. The work was hard and exciting but I knew I still needed to tell my own stories.

In 1984 with the help of the Women’s Film Fund I retreated to the solitude of my studio and made my first animated film NED WETHERED. The success of NED WETHERED set me on the path of making more animated films - each one a story about my family and my childhood. Around this time Mark and I had two beautiful children Alice and Harry. ON A FULL MOON was made in 1997, ADA in 2002, and THE SAFE HOUSE in 2006. These films are all made using techniques my father had introduced me to - pencil drawing, charcoal and pastels, and oil painting. To my surprise my family stories seemed to mean things to other people. They have been shown extensively at festivals around the world and have received awards and recognition in Australia and overseas.

When I am not locked away on my own work I enjoy teaching design and creating animation and graphics for other filmmakers’ projects. I have created ‘pictures’ for many dramas and documentaries, including animated sequences for the feature films BREATHING UNDER WATER (1990) and LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI (2000).

6. Music:

Sharon Calcraft did a number of film scores in the 1980s.

This CV, sourced here, provides some details of her career:

Born in Jamaica in 1955, Sharon Calcraft moved to Australia with her family at age fourteen. She began writing music in the late 1970s when filmmaker/animator Antoinette Starkiewicz asked her to write the music for a short film she was preparing. She scored her first feature for director John Duigan in 1981 (Winter of Our Dreams) and went on to score many films including Far East, Fast Talking, Boundaries of the Heart, Boys in the Island and a number of animated shorts and features.

These years were a time of great exchange of ideas with a core group of brilliant musicians who she was fortunate enough to have as interpreters. These artists included Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton, Steve Elphick, Greg Sheehan, James Morrison, Nigel Westlake, Stephanie MacCallum, Elizabeth Campbell, Michael Askill, and so many other gifted and generous ones including sound engineer Gerry Nixon. Her film scoring career was put on hold when her three sons were small and she was for a time a guest lecturer at the AFTRS, giving talks on the Classical Hollywood Film Score.

She has written works for Synergy Percussion (La Mort Mysterieuse for percussion quartet and mezzo Elizabeth Campbell); the group Halcyon (Stefanos for electro-acoustic harp, amplified piano, soprano and mezzo); Alice Giles on Camac "Blue" harp (Tombeau de L'Abbe Suger); liturgical works for the Choristers of St Andrew's Cathedral under the direction of Michael Deasey (Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis,Te Deum and a setting of parts of the text of Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich). She has most recently completed a commission for St Andrew's Cathedral School for Halcyon, choir, organ and percussion. The text is taken from one of St Ephrem the Syrian's great hymns on The Pearl. She teaches composition at St Ignatius College, Riverview.

Singer songwriter Graham Lowndes, who contributed two songs to the score, was well known at the time, and though his own recording career was relatively brief, he is fondly remembered by many folkie enthusiasts. Director John Duigan in his commentary for the DVD, remembers Lowndes as a terrific song writer, and says he considers his two songs an important emotional element in the film (Duigan was also inclined to pick up a guitar and strum in his early films).

The song which Lowndes wrote which runs over the end scene and the end credits, was originally recorded by Jeannie Lewis for her debut album, Free Fall Through Featherless Flight.

Below are the lyrics for Till Time Brings Change, which runs over the end scene, and then the end credits.

The lyrics used in the film were slightly modified, compared to other versions of the song, to soften the masculine elements in a few lines:

Like wind blown grass

In fields of time

My love for you, 

It turned my life around ('turns' in other lyrics)

Through clouds of circumstance

Like morning mist, 

That dims the trees, 

I hear your voice 

Without a sound

So we shared a common bond

And faced the turmoil that surrounds

'Til time brings change, 

'Til time brings change

Like August winds 

That send the rain

Your love for me, 

It fills my empty cup

Sometimes someone  ('a man' in other lyrics)

Might want to die

And giving in, 

And giving up 

Might find their life ('his life' in other lyrics)

And so although

It might not show

You turn my pain to joy

'Til time brings change, 

'Til time brings change

And so although 

It might not show

You turned my pain to joy

'Til time brings change, 

'Til time brings change …

'Til time brings change …

(organ and piano take the song out for the final 55 seconds or so …) 

For more on the film's music, see this site's pdf of music credits.

7. Synopsis, with spoilers:

Rob McGregor (Bryan Brown), the owner of an inner-city bookshop, hears of the suicide of Lisa Blaine (Margie McCrae), an old girlfriend. While tracing the events surrounding her death, he meets a Kings Cross prostitute, Lou (Judy Davis), a friend of Lisa's, and like her, a junkie.

Initially Rob is interested in what Lou can tell him about Lisa, but she also arouses his curiosity (Lou has Lisa's diary of those university days together).

What to Rob is a casual interest, however, becomes something much more significant for Lou. She visits him in the newly-renovated Birchgrove house he shares with his wife Gretel (Cathy Downes) and is mystified by their open marriage - academic Gretel is currently involved with a student toy boy Tim (Peter Mochrie), though he has a girlfriend Michelle (Kim Deacon).

Rob is totally different from the men she is familiar with - attractive, sensitive, worldly - and apparently quite non-judgmental of her.

Lou is increasingly unhappy with her life on the street, and her pimp (John Smythe) and her addiction to drugs, supplied by her young dealing street friend Pete (Baz Luhrmann), who keeps trying to have sex with her. But while she shares a certain fondness for, and tickling games with, Pete, Lou thinks he's young, inexperienced and callow.

At the same time, Lou is reading the diary Lisa kept of the period she was involved with Rob more than ten years ago - in the heady days of the late sixties when he was a radical student leader and participating in anti-Vietnam war moratoriums (when Pete sees The Odd Angry Shot on television, he dismisses it as just another film about some war).

Like Lisa, Lou too begins to fall in love with him, but there is no place for Lou in Rob's world. While he would like to help her, he finds her growing attentions difficult to handle, especially when she proposes sex - which he deflects - and even more so, when she goes cold turkey in his house to escape her heroin addiction.

More subtly, he is increasingly reminded both of Lisa and of the way he himself has changed in the last decade. The relationship begins to follow the pattern of the earlier one, and, it seems, may end just as tragically. 'I'm thinking of getting out of everything', Lou announces ominously to Pete.

When Lou invites Rob to a meal - of the kind she's observed in his house - Rob begs off and instead plays a game of football with a team jokingly titled the Balmain Trots (their rivals are the Mensheviks).

Rob is left to brood in the football change room about the point he's reached in his life, and his abandoning of Lou; while Lou stumbles across a group of anti-uranium demonstrators and is invited to eat with them.

As she sits amongst the demonstrators, her face displays a range of emotions, as she stares at the camera, in a last, long, lingering shot ...

 

Sex and sexuality is a theme that runs through the film

Baz Lurhmann's character Pete is inclined to fumbling with Judy Davis

Director Duigan makes a joke of what Judy Davis's character really thinks is on offer

Bryan Brown's character Rob is also casual sexual with his 'open marriage' partner Gretel (Cathy Downes)

Rob and Gretel make out even as Rob is on the phone to Lou

Director Duigan asks his actors to show a casual approach to nudity on screen

Bryan Brown obliges in the nudity stakes with a scene that became notorious for its underpants

Bryan Brown keeps flaunting the flesh; Judy Davis helps the creative team maintain a bright palette

Long Nose point offers a little more nudity

Cathy Downes joins in the penchant for getting undressed

Bryan Brown's chest is regularly on display

Even while reading The First Circle Brown can't help showing a little flesh

In a rare moment for her, Judy Davis joins the rest of the cast in the nudity stakes

There's even a little chest nudity at a junkie squat - perhaps adding to the notion that in Sydney in summer everyone had a casual attitude to clothes

Even doing a little carpentry finds Bryan Brown flaunting flesh

Even Man Ray helps out on the left - but there are a number of other photos and art dressing throughout the film that add to the general mood

Contrary wise the actual business of being a prostitute is mostly off screen, except for a nightmare moment or two remembered by Lou

There's nothing like a three way chat about life for showing a little flesh

Baz Lurhmann also shows a little flesh, along with the cans in his TV set

Even Mervyn Drake joins in playing football for the Balmain Trots