Australian Screen

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Phar Lap (1983)

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clip Bobby and Pikey make history

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Tommy Woodcock (Tom Burlinson) runs Phar Lap onto the track at Flemington for the 1930 Melbourne Cup. The horse has been kept in hiding after an attempt on his life; the race has been delayed 15 minutes waiting for the favourite to arrive. The crowd erupts as the horse is run out to meet the waiting jockey, Jimmy Pike (James Steele). Dave Davis (Ron Liebman) watches seriously from the stand with his wife, Bea (Judy Morris). Phar Lap starts well back and has to run the outside lane, but he wins the race in convincing fashion. The crowd is ecstatic, everyone except the top-hatted members of the Victorian Racing Club committee.

Curator’s notes

The scene gives a good sense of the public adulation and admiration in which Phar Lap was held. The long run to the jockey is a brilliant piece of direction and cinematography – the horse looks completely noble, clad in a cloth that’s far from humble. He also looks enormous, which was certainly true. Bruce Rowland’s music adds an emotional fanfare that mirrors the crowd’s excitement. The film was superbly shot by Russell Boyd (Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975, Gallipoli, 1981), one of Australia’s most experienced and gifted cinematographers, and his work on the race is interesting. The walk up to the start features a beautiful shot of the legs and heads, emphasising the strength and grandeur of the horses, but the first part of the race is shown largely in long shot, from the point of view of a spectator. The vantage point moves in as the race becomes more exciting; the camera is mounted on a truck to move at their pace; then the point of view is taken lower as Phar Lap begins his run, to accentuate the power of his legs. The view then shifts back to the crowd for the finish, in long shots, to make us feel like we are part of this historic crowd. Compare this to Thoroughbred, Ken Hall’s 1936 film, in which similar techniques were used much earlier.

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