Production company: no production company credit on film. The film's title would become the title of director Paul Cox's production company, Illumination Films.
Budget: the budget for the film was listed in the Cinema Papers' production guide as A$25,000. Other sources list it as A$31,000 (David Stratton, The Last New Wave). The Film, Radio and Television Board of the Australia Council contributed A$16,000 to the budget, and it is likely that there was a fair proportion of key crew deferrals in the rest of the budget.
Locations: Melbourne and surrounds, Melbourne International Airport etc.
Filmed: listed as editing July-August 1975, and finished, awaiting release Nov-Dec 1975 (Cinema Papers production report); David Stratton puts the shoot in August 1975.
Australian distributor: self-distributed
Australian release: 7th May 1976 Melbourne Film-makers' Co-op (David Stratton puts the premiere in April 1976 at the Co-op).
Running time: 74 mins (Oxford Australian Film)
AFI VHS time: 1'04"38 (excluding 17 seconds of AFI presentation credits)
Box office: minimal. The film did the usual tour of the indie, university, co-op and film society circuit, but this wasn't a revenue raiser so much as a calling card for future feature film productions. David Stratton in The Last New Wave notes that the film only had a short run at the Melbourne Filmmakers' Co-op and "... it never approached recovering its costs - 'none of my films do that,' says Cox ruefully.'"
By way of consolation, Stratton noted that the same year Cox completed one of his most successful short films, We Are All Alone My Dear, which won a silver prize at the AFI Awards.
Illuminations was nominated in the 1976 AFI Awards for Best Cinematography, sponsored by Kodak Australasia, for Brian Gracey and Paul Cox. The winner that year was Ian Baker for The Devil's Playground.
The film was released on VHS by the AFI, and copies derived from that source circulate amongst collectors. Quality depends on source material.
Surprisingly, the film is not part of the comprehensive - and for private use expensive - collection of Cox's feature films, shorts and documentaries available at Artfilms.com, here.
Director Paul Cox had already begun to mine a vein of melancholy in his short films, perhaps the most successful being the wistful documentary We Are All Alone My Dear (variously dated to 1975, 1976 and 1977 - there is no date on the film itself - but made during his time at Prahan College teaching photography).
This featured Jean Campbell, a person with a career in the arts and a background in classical music, trapped in a rest home waiting to die, and the use of a curtain being wafted about by the wind was a typically visual metaphor by which Cox expressed her plight.
Another typical example was The Journey (1972) about the loneliness of a middle-aged man haunted by the past which was described, with a dash of under-statement, by the Oxford as sombre.
For Illuminations, his first feature-length effort, Cox seized on one of his own dreams for inspiration:
I think Illuminations is a better example of the importance of little incidents. Five or six years ago I had a dream about somebody in a coffin which had a little hole in it. And somebody's eye was looking through the hole at the people following. I realized it was me in the coffin, but that I was alive and could see all the people who had somehow been part of my life. It wasn't just the people I knew at that time, but also people who had come back from my past - the man who used to repair my bicycle when I was six, he was there.
It was an amazing procession and it led to Illuminations. But when I made the film I took all that out. I found the very vision of lying the coffin so heavy and grotesque that I couldn't use it. (Cinema Papers' interview July 1974)
While Cox might have avoided the image, the notion and imagery of death hangs heavy in the air throughout most of Illuminations, the film after which he named his production company.
While the film isn't discussed, there is a useful interview with Paul Cox about a number of his films at Peter Malone's essential website, here.
The film was made very cheaply in what was already Cox's preferred ensemble method - lead actor Tony Llwelleyn-Jones, for example, would work with Cox for many years, while Norman Kaye was also a regular, about whom Cox would later make a moving documentary, The Remarkable Mr. Kaye.
Cox struggled to get the film released. It wasn't picked up by a mainstream distributor and he was forced to self-distribute. The critical response was muted, even though Cox had tried to forestall criticism. Anticipating that he'd be beaten up by critics for making yet another doom-laden, inaccessible work, he contrived to give the film an upbeat ending:
I have made very dark, depressing, heavy sorts of films in the past. With Illuminations I tried, for the first time, to be optimistic. I was trying to make a film about the potential of the mind, not about what people are.
This is another thing we should talk about: people always try to imitate life instead of inventing life. This is the way we are, we say. And in the process of resigning ourselves to that fact we grow dull and grey and miss out so much. We really start life with the potential for experiencing all the beauty the world has to offer. And look what happens!
I would love a lot of people who hated Illuminations to see it again. I am not proud of that film. It is badly constructed: it is in two parts and too fragmented. But perhaps in 20 years, when I have become more professional, I will remake that film. I believe the idea has great potential. (Cinema Papers, as above).
4. Paul Cox:
Cox was born in the Netherlands in 1940. He came to Australia in 1963, and made a living as a professional still photographer, while at the same time indulging in the making of super 8mm films as a hobby. He began making short 16mm films, more as a way of personal expression than as a commercial venture.
The transition to feature films took place while he was teaching at Prahan college in Melbourne, as he explained in an interview which could, at time of writing, be found in full here:
I was doing quite OK as a photographer but I was also doing a little bit of writing and had this strange hobby making Super 8 movies.
I still maintain, by the way, that if you really want to do anything seriously you should do it as a hobby because as soon as it becomes a profession you come under all sorts of pressures and demands for you to compromise. This seems to be the way the world operates.
So in my stubbornness and ignorance I moved into filmmaking. I was teaching photography at Prahran College in Melbourne at the time and my department was given a grant to develop a cinema department. Because I'd made some silly little films, and there was nobody else to teach it, they gave me the job.
Within six months I'd become an expert because I had to stay one step ahead of the students. I knew very little but every week I brought people in from the industry and twice a week we had film appreciation classes and watched all the classics. I had some background because of my father, but it never ignited any passion in me until I started to teach it.
As it turned out I learnt more than anyof the students and suddenly I was hooked. It was as simple as that. I had no particular desire to make feature films but discovered it was the ideal way of expressing myself and it took over my life. And in another way it was like a curse that ruined my life.
RP: Ruined it?
PC: I make my films very much as a way of living. The film actually takes over my life and there is very little room for anything else. When I look at people living normal lives... for instance at night they say ‘Goodnight' and they go to sleep. I can't do this. When I start making a film it becomes everything, it consumes me completely and generally I can't even sleep. This troubles me at times and it ruins a normal sort of existence but I suppose this is the price you have to pay.
Despite the tepid response to his first feature, Illuminations, Cox would go on to become one of the most prolific and active arthouse feature film directors in the Australian industry.
While the Oxford Australian Film and other databases date the film to 1976, the year of its release, and the film itself has no copyright notice or date on its credits in its VHS release, the film is listed in Cinema Papers as having been completed and awaiting release in November-December 1975.
This site dates productions where possible to the year of production rather than the year of release, in this case 1975.
6. Producer Tibor Markus:
Tibor Markus died shortly after the film was completed. There is a tail credit which dedicates the film to him, and perhaps also as a tribute, his name is last to appear in the head credits, with Cox shifting his credit to the end. Markus also appears briefly in the film.