"You are probably wondering why I keep appearing in your memories, John.
It is because I have inserted myself into them."
-Dr Schreber in Dark City
Alex Proyas is an internationally renowned film director who first came to my attention through the excellent film Dark City.
Originally born in Egypt, Proyas has lived in Australia since he was three years old. At 18, He attended the Australian Film and Television School, where he wrote and directed his first short film Groping. Groping went on to win the Best Short Film at both the Sydney and London Film Festivals.
Proyas soon became disillusioned with studying, and in 1984 left school to form his own production company, Meaningful Eye Contact, focusing initially on directing music videos for such bands as Crowded House, Fleetwood Mac and INXS. He went on to win several awards for his music videos and ensure the continuing success of Meaningful Eye Contact.
In 1989, Proyas co-wrote and directed his first feature length film, Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds. This film was not overly successful, and I have found not yet been able to find a copy in mainstream video stores in Australia. After this flop, Proyas started directing many successful television commercials for companies such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and American Express.
The film which brought Proyas to the attention of the general public was his second attempt at making a feature film: 1994's The Crow. The Crow is a comic book adaptation based on a character who returns to life following the rape and murder of his girlfriend and his own unjust murder. Starring Brandon Lee, The Crow achieved notoriety in the movie world when Lee died on-set after a fragment of a fake bullet was accidentally fired from a stage gun.
The Crow is the epitome of gothic. It's set in a dark, poorly lit city, involving an undead character who has returned from the grave for veangeance and to play some mean guitar on the rooftops. Eric Draven, the lead character, is followed around by a sinister looking crow and has a penchant for being able to take rounds of ammunition in the chest without blinking.
Over his years of directing commercials, Proyas had by this point developed a distinct style of filmography that seems perfectly suited to a comic book adaptation like The Crow. He excels in creating surrealistic city landscapes and is adept at using special effects. Many film critics wrote complementary pieces about The Crow concerning it's stylish direction (however it's action and death oriented subject matter did not receive such high praise).
After the Crow, Proyas' next release was 1998's Dark City, a science-fiction thriller which dabbled in psychology and philosophy. Continuing The Crow's stylised atmosphere, renouned Internet film critic James Berardinelli said about Dark City -
" No movie can ever have too much atmosphere,
and Dark City exudes it from every frame of celluloid."
The entire film is a psychological nightmare for its protagonist, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell). The film starts with Murdoch waking up, naked, in a bathtub. Upon exploring a little, he finds that he is in fact in a crumby hotel suite accompanied by a dead prostitute. On top of this, Murdoch has amnesia. Has he killed the prostitute? Who is he? Why does the sun never rise? Who are the deathly pale humans that float through the air and try to kill him with their mental powers?
Such questions occupy John Murdoch's time in Dark City. As John's search for his history continues, he meets several other characters and encounters several paradoxes of his existence, leading him to question the very nature of the darkly surreal city that encloses him, the lives of the humans living there, and the existence of the human soul. Ultimately Murdoch's attempt to take control of his own destiny and solve the problem of the meaning of his existence becomes a metaphor for our own existence on Earth; something similar to the eye-opening experience Neo has in The Matrix.
Dark City received many accolades upon it's release, in Australia and internationally. Notably, the famous film critic Roger Ebert named Dark City Best Film of the Year. It remains a favourite of cinema patrons world wide.
Proyas' latest release is 2002's Garage Days. Garage Days is a light-hearted comedy about an aspiring rock and roll band trying to make it into the big time; a story familiar to those of us that have musically minded friends.
Featuring an Australian cast and shot in Sydney's famous Newtown district, Garage Days features all of my local pubs, my university and closeby Newtown's famous King Street, a well known centre of culture in Sydney. It struck a note with the many students and liberal minded people who live in the area, and has done well in cinemas across Australia.
Garage Days is a deftly sculpted comedy involving material and characters which are obviously close to the heart of many young people in Australia; as a young director Proyas must have known many people in the situation of the protagonists in Garage Days. Critics have given the film mixed ratings; however most agree that it is more innovative than the general mainstream.
Ultimately Garage Days is destined for the shelves of video stores due to it's lack of broad appeal to citizens in other countries. While still a good film, it has not achieved the widespread acclaim that Dark City and The Crow earned Proyas.
Proyas' short films, released over the last two decades, have also recieved acclaim, with one being nominated for awards at the Cannes Film Festival.
Alex Proyas continues to develop feature films with his production company, Mystery Clock Cinema, as well as being involved with New Line Cinema, and actively producing commercials for several companies. I am avidly looking forward to his future releases.