Production company: B. C. Productions
Budget: A$80,000, most coming from the Australian Film Development Corporation (also listed as $70,000 and $75,000 in several Cinema Papers production surveys).
Locations: boarding house in Kirribilli, other Sydney locations; Greece. For more details of the locations and schedule see this site's "about the movie".
Filmed: March 1974, three week shoot. The second unit shoot in Greece took place in April, with director Cowan, producer Brennan, and actress Yelena Zigon flying to Greece for village life scenes, and scenes with Zigon's lover, played by Jean-Claude Petit. The film is listed as being in production in the April 1974 Cinema Papers, and as awaiting release in the December 1974 issue.
Australian distributor: self-distributed
Theatrical release: March 1975 premiere at Australia 75 Arts Festival Canberra. 3rd December 1976 Village City Cinema complex, Sydney (the George street cinemas double billed it with the G-rated A profile of Greekness, about Mikis Theodorakis).
Then to Greece in April 1977 and eventually as a double bill with Love Letters from Teralba Road at the Longford in Melbourne in December 1977.
35 mm Eastmancolor 5254
Running time: 84 mins (Oxford). Original running time 96 minutes - following the Canberra premiere, some scenes were cut, and the ending altered to show the protagonist Antigone walking alone towards an uncertain future.
Box office: minimal. The film was never given a proper domestic theatrical release, and apart from limited screenings in Greece, did not travel well internationally. Because of Yugoslav actress Yelena Zigon, it did however get a limited theatrical release in Yugoslavia.
1976 Australian Film Institute Awards:
Nominated, Best Editing sponsored by the Directors of the Dendy Cinema Group and Filmways Distributors (David Stiven) (won by Edward McQueen-Mason for End Play)
Nominated, Best Supporting Actress sponsored by Nissan-Datsun Australia (Kate Fitzpatrick) (Jackie Weaver and Melissa Jaffer shared the award for their work in Caddie)
Not known outside the archive. The NFSA archive does hold preservation materials and access copies, details here.
It's a pity that the film has disappeared from public home viewing, as it is an interesting variation on what could almost be called an Australian sub-genre - feature films taking a look at the migrant experience in Australia.
The film was based on a play by a Greek writer, Theo Patrikareas, Throw Away Your Harmonica.
Patrikareas emigrated to Australia in 1958, and so had lived in Australia for some time when his play was first performed in Sydney in 1963 by the Hellenic Theatre Company (some sources, including the Oxford, put the year of production at 1962 but there is a record of the Anzac House Auditorium production online here, and Patrikareas himself dates it to 1963. It was subsequently revived in performances in 2000 by Sidetrack Theatre, Don Mamouney director, and in performances in 2001).
Director Tom Cowan did the adapation, but later distanced himself from the film, suggesting in a January 1978 Cinema Papers interview that there were issues with the source material:
In Promised Woman, the film I made in between these two, (Office Picnic and Journey Among Women) I made a lot of mistakes; it's more conventionally motivated and commercial. I didn't actually write the story for that.
Cowan had come into contact with the playwright while doing a film as director/cinematographer for the Commonwealth Film Unit, a thirteen minute film called Helen of Sydney, about the impressions Greek actress Helena Rigas had of Sydney and the people she met.
It was much more of a professional job; it wasn't so personal because it was based on a play that this Greek writer (who had helped me on Helen of Sydney) had written about a boarding house. Although I changed it radically and put in memory flashbacks, I felt that I had a little bit more objectivity and it was more like other films that were being made. I haven't actually seen it for a long time. (Signis interview, 12th November 1988, now offline)
Cowan did however related to the material, and continued to develop it after Patrikareas decided to return to Athens to work as a TV playwright and later journalist.
On a trip to Moscow in 1973 for the screening of The Office Picnic at the Moscow Film Festival, Cowan met with Patrikareas, and according to Graham Shirley, "with the impetus of their discussions, continued the adapation".
Certain characters were elminated, new ones added and the action was no longer tied entirely to the confines of a Newtown boarding house. The concept of the proxy bride, or "promised woman", had also changed much in the eleven years since the play's first appearance, but it was decided to leave intact the assumption that such marriages still occasionally occur (Cinema Papers, July 1974).
The play struck a chord with Cowan's own interests:
I suppose it's got the outsider point of view and it's a way of looking at things freshly, too. I was seeing Sydney through her eyes. In Helen of Sydney the Opera House was still being built, so it was easy to make a metaphor or a simile to compare the stone sweep of the seating with the Acropolis. It was just very similar. But with Promised Woman, what drove it and formed it was that I was very interested in Jung: the unconscious and thoughts and how they control us, how we're connected to the past and sometimes enmeshed in it. So I used the fisherman and his nets, dragging them up from the sea in Greece, it's her lover and how she's caught in those dreams and how they do not allow her to really be here. I explored those ideas. And seeing Sydney with the eyes of a newly- arrived, seeing it afresh, seeing it like a child...
... the film was still very much influenced by European cinema, I think, even though visually it was very much how I saw things. But the richness of Greek Orthodox symbols and music and ritual were very much part of the whole mosaic of it. (Signis, as above)
In subsequent productions of the play, the title was changed to The Promised Woman, and it was published under that name by Currency Press in Plays of the 60s Volume 1.
Currency Press | 978-0-86819-545-2
The pitch for the book described the play this way:
Possibly the first play by a post-war immigrant staged in Australia, The Promised Woman has also been produced in Greece. Set in a boarding house in Sydney's inner city suburb of Newtown, it captures the dislocation and problems of immigration as it tells the story of a strong young woman who finds a way to break free of traditional constraints.
In his article for Cinema Papers in July 1974, Graham Shirley summarised the film's plot this way:
As developed (for the film), the plot of Promised Woman is this: Helen, the wife of a boarding house proprietor, arranges a marriage between Antigone and the younger of two brothers, Telis. When Antigone arrives in Sydney, Telis discovers that she has lied about her age and rejects her completely. The older brother Manolis attempts to help her, is at first rebuffed, then finds himself competing with the renewed attentions of Telis. Much of the action develops around Antigone's withdrawal into her past and her growing desire to remain as independent as circumstances in the boarding house will allow.
2. Casting and Production:
Cowan had difficulty casting the leading role of Antigone, as Shirley explained in his July 1974 Cinema Papers record of the production, and at first set his heart on Irene Papas:
Eighteen days before the scheduled start on Promised Woman, Tom departed for Rome. The object of his visit was Irene Papas, who had already said "no" to the second draft of the script but was receptive and willing to discuss a third. Tom spent several days explaining that the part had been updated with her in mind and that her appearance would guarantee the success of the film in any country of the world. Miss Papas disagreed, stating that success would depend on the employment of a second interntional star. As neither Miss Papas' forthcoming commitments, nor the prospect of hunting up another name held hopes of immediate production, Tom departed for Belgrade and a meeting with Yelena Zigon. He was visiting her at the suggestion of Kate Fitzpatrick. (Cowan had met a party of carousing Yugoslavs at the 1973 Moscow Film Festival, including Yelena Zigon, and Kate Fitzpatrick and Zigon had become friends, partly, according to Shirley, because they could both speak French better than each other's language).
After Zigon agreed to star in the show, Cowan pushed the start date back, and ironically confirmed Papas' co-star in Zorba The Greek, Takis Emmanuel, as another lead, in the role of Manolis. (Both would feature in other Australian films - Zigon later returned to play in The Picture Show Man, and also appeared in Caddie and the Paul Cox film Kostas).
Cowan had originally considered Jim Panagiotopoulos, then a writer for the Hellenic Voice, for the role Manolis. In real life, Panagiotopoulos was also a part-time teacher of Greek to primary school students, and this was integrated into his screen character. With Emmanuel on board, the character still ran language classes but had become a portrait photographer.
Several of the cast came from the Hellenic Theatre Group which had originally staged the play, including Nikos Gerissimou as Telis and George Valaris as the boarding house prorprietor.
The role of Elpitha was given to Thea Sevastos, who had missed out on a role in Oliver Howes' episode of Toula in the Film Australia portmanteau feature 3 To Go. According to Shirley:
No less volatile than predicted, Thea's every appearance is a delightful blend of menace and melodrama. Garbed heavily in black and with a voice to topple the Acropolis, she is the very essence of the film's darkest moments of doom.
The heavily ethnic and relatively authentic casting helped with screenings in Yugoslavia and Greece, but didn't help the film travel further.
The small fourteen person crew included director Gillian Armstrong as production designer, and film historian Graham Shirley as an assistant director.
Shirley wrote a report on the making of the film for the July 1974 edition of Cinema Papers, and gave a detailed description of the film's three week Austalian shooting schedule, and Greek location work:
- First up was a half-day of filming Antigone's arrival aboard the "Australis" at Circular Quay;
- Most of the rest of the remaining first week was spent at a boarding house in Kirribilli, which had been used for James Ricketson's short Joker, shot by Cowan. The boarding house eventually took up seven days of the shoot;
- On Wednesay March 13th, the crew bumped out of the boarding house, and filmed most of the principals at Randwick Racecourse;
- The next day and night the unit filmed at the Athena Restaurant;
- On the Friday the crew filmed at Hollis Park, Newtown;
- On the Saturday, the crew filmed at the Sydney International Airport and the Sussex Hotel;
- Monday the 18th and Tuesday the 19th saw the unit return to the Kirribilli boarding house for a last couple of days;
- Next came a variety of Sydney locations, incouding a demolition site in Bondi (where walls toppled on cue), various streets in Newtown, St Sophia's church in Darlinghurst, Paddy's market in the city, and the Opera House;
- Friday 29th March saw the unit film at Diethnes Restaurant for the last day of the shoot.
- On Monday 1st April, Takis Emmanuel and Yelena Zigon revoiced some four sequences in the Eric Porter Studios at North Sydney, with Zigon departing for Greece in the afternoon;
- The next day, Cowan and co-producer Richard Brennan departed for Greece and location recces (unfortunately Theo Patrikareas had a broken leg and was unable to help). The pair settled on a village at Galaxidon, about 40 kms from Delphi. Three days were spent filming there.
For anybody wanting to remember the chaff-cutting days of rough 35mm gear, Shirley's report is particularly evocative, especially filming in the confined spaces of the boarding house:
Our biggest restriction came with the Cameblimp, a large bread-oven device which somehow subdued the clatter of the 35mm Cameflex we were using. If Tom wished to retain any form of visual mobility, the quickest way was to leave the camera unblimped and to take guide-tracks for sound. If a dolly shot was required to cover essential dialogue, an hour could be spent in mounting and balancing the blimp, clearing enough space and getting enough people to haul the dolly down the corridor and into the dining room, or later on in the shooting, along a good quarter of Victoria Street.
A blimped Cameflex! All the same, Cowan remained enthusiastic about location filming, and never mind the sound of the chaff-cutter:
In spite of the inevitable interruptions from aeroplanes, loud plumbing and returning drunks, Tom is glad Promised Woman was shot entirely on location, He admits that about ten years ago he preferred studio filming - "Then I found out that Fellini had a good thing going when he shot '8½' on location. The element of fantasy was much stronger in '8½' where he didn't use sets. Compare 8½ to Satyricon where a lot of the shooting was done in the studio. The feeling that came from the locations of 8½ is gone entirely. A real location is more flexible, because you can use the location for either fantasy or realism".
Originally, director Cowan had a different production and release strategy, and given the commercial results of the finished film, they might have produced a better result, if only a success d'estime.
... Initially it was based on the fact that there was a Greek circuit of cinemas. It got made very easily because of that distribution chain. I was going to make it in black and white - Greek films were still being made in black and white. When I went to the AFDC, they said, "No, we want it in colour and in English, so we'll just double the budget. Is that all right?" So I said okay and got Richard Brennan to do the production work. (Signis, as above).
In his piece for the July 1975 edition of Cinema Papers, Graham Shirley talks optimistically about potential markets for the film - Yugoslavia and Greece - but noted there were no plans for distribution in Australia.
Cowan is quoted as saying that he expected most of the film's returns to come from overseas, and that he didn't think market activities and market-place festivals were "terribly important" at that stage.
Instead Cowan preferred to talk about influences and directions:
Among his influences, Tom sees great advantage in the cultural cleansing properties of Italian Neo-Realism, the French New Wave and their more recent equivalents in countries like Cuba and Argentina. As movements whose development did not rely on an established studio system, he feels they have a potential counterpart in Australia. With this in mind, he recognises that now more than ever before, there is a production climate that favours his own style of film-making. Not accepting the assertion that more money means greater production value, he says "It can't all be bad luck that people who spend a lot of money end up with such dull, homogenous results. A low-budget film involves many risks, but I think the ultimate horror is for an insurance company to finance a film. That would be as bad as working for the ABC, working for the committee system".
Unfortunately, it's arguable that the ultimate horror is for a film to be poorly marketed, and within a lifetime to disappear completely from view.
After a disappointing commercial release, with intermittent screenings mainly in the two major capital cities and a brief life on the indie circuit, the film was sent to sit on a shelf in the archive, and now remains difficult to access outside the archive.
This is a pity, because whatever the film's flaws - and it has many - it fits into an interesting Australian sub-genre - another variant on the 'deceptive photograph sent by a migrant as part of a marriage proposal' storyline, which also featured in the 1971 Italian Luigi Zampa feature Bello Onesto Emigrato Australia, and Jan Sardi's 2004 Love's Brother.
If the definition of the genre is loosened a little, it includes any number of Australian films which deal with the migrant experience, from Giorgio Mangiamele's shorts set in Carlton, Melbourne, through the 1966 commercial comedy of They're a Weird Mob to the 1975 Turkish-inflected Ayten Kuyululu's The Golden Cage to Paul Cox's 1979 take on the Greek experience in Kostas.