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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday May 20, 2019 

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DARK CITY – WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE

The filmmaker of his generation who is perhaps least recognised as an Australian, Alex Proyas, is consciously not making ‘Australian’ films in Australia: in 1994 he made The Crow, and his latest fantasy, Dark City is set in a nightmare. During production, ANDREW L. URBAN ventured into the dark . . .

The sunshine of a spring day is stopped dead in its tracks at the massive doors of what is still called the Commemorative Pavilion at the Sydney Showgrounds, which is gradually morphing into the new studio complex for Twentieth Century Fox. Inside the cavernous hall, giant pin-like legs of black-draped scaffold separate the space into the set and off-set.

The darkness on set oozes danger.

As we walk in, dozens of figures sit, amble, lounge or stand in the cluttered space, their identically shaved heads poking out of identical black robes, a combination that gives off an air of malice.

Past the impromptu café servery (complete with a small espresso machine!) we walk into the area where the camera unit is located, inside the main set, a fantastic structure which is being kept under wraps until the film’s release. Imagine a six storey chamber surrounded by balconied floors that rise above the central area. At first glance, each ‘wall’ is made of rustic, rusted sheeting, with irregular edges; in fact, everything is irregular, except the central metal turntable, on which Rufus Sewell is strapped, lying on his back.

The camera, mounted on a tall crane drops down towards him as two black robed figures observe; one has an illuminated gizmo over his right eye. The darkness on set oozes danger.

On one wall, a huge face has opened, as if split in two, revealing a giant clock with an opaque face. Opposite this is a twisted mass of buildings - looking like a bizarre theatre set that’s been twisted by the hands of some giant.

Sewell is released from his bonded state and bounds off the platform for a chat. He slips on his tweed jacket, and what with his English accent, seems completely out of place in Dark City.

" Naked in a cold bath ... not a great way to introduce yourself to a strange crew" Rufus Sewell

"Christ, that thing’s uncomfortable…but at least they’ve put a bit of padding under my head. Before, it was just a bit of metal."

He pours himself tea while I wait for a short black. In the real world, it’s 11 am Monday. In dungeonous Dark City, it seems like eternal midnight.

Sewell, one of Britain’s prized young actors (on stage as well as screen), is starring in this futuristic mystery, as John Murdoch, a man who must fight to reclaim his destiny as he seeks to unravel the twisted riddle of his identity.

"It starts with me waking up naked in a cold bath" he says matter of factly, "not a great way to introduce yourself to a strange crew…"

He has lost all his memory, and in the adjacent room he discovers a bloody corpse. Did he dun it?

Although Sewell’s father is an Australian animator (who went to work in London in the 50s) this is Sewell’s first trip here. And the job’s great. "It’s even better than I had imagined," he says. "Many science fiction films are not as challenging; this is really a film noir and a psycho thriller."

"Films that inspire me have some element of illusion" Writer/director Alex Proyas

Writer director Alex Proyas, one of Australia’s most elusive film makers, explains why, during lunch break.

"I like to do unusual and interesting things, but I also find it infuriating. The stories I like to tell inherently make use of special effects. Films that inspire me have some element of illusion; you have to concentrate on detail, which I hate - I prefer to go with the flow. But …" he sips his coffee over the words unsaid.

Dark City is a complex story, about shadow-like figures, The Strangers, who manipulate reality. They even move the city each night….but John Murdoch is also imbued with this strange power, so he alone is able to resist their control over his mind. And he discovers that his memories - and reality as he knows it - are artificial creations.

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