Adam Elliot: The Films That Changed My Life

January 29, 2021
The director of animated faves Harvie Krumpet and Mary And Max runs us through the movies that have had the greatest impact on him.

With an Oscar win in 2004 for his short animation, Harvie Krumpet, animation writer, director, and producer, Adam Elliot, saw it named in 2005 as one of the top 100 animated films of all time. In 2009, he made his feature film debut with the daringly different Mary And Max (the beautifully animated tale of the surprising pen friendship that develops between a young Australian girl and a lonely middle aged New Yorker, voiced by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and returned to the short film format with 2015’s acclaimed Ernie Biscuit. Adam Elliot chatted to FilmInk about the films that changed his life…and some of the inclusions might come as a surprise…

MY LIFE AS A DOG (1985)

“I saw Lasse Hallstrom’s film in my late teens, before I went to film school, and I loved its innocence – it sees everything from a child’s perspective. I’ve always preferred films that don’t have complicated plots because I’m easily confused, and I love this Swedish film’s simplicity and humour.”

WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (1993)

“I saw a later film of Hallstrom’s at a formative time in my career as a filmmaker. I started to realise that I wanted to make films with a combination of humour and pathos, comedy and tragedy, and films about loners and underdogs. I’ve never particularly been a fan of Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio, but I found the scene with their overweight mother being cremated in her own house so powerful. That left an impression.”

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)

“Another film with a grape! I’d read the book at school but didn’t see the John Ford-Henry Fonda film until years later. It’s so endlessly tragic, with everyone, one by one, dying in all that dust, which you can see even more in black-and-white. I love those epic novels and films that leave you wrung out at the end.”

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)

“I prefer the book to the film, but it’s on my list because I love endings that have strong, uplifting music and, even though it’s tragic, there’s something in the music that’s nourishing and hopeful. I like my films to have that too. In Mary And Max, I tried to imitate that kind of powerful ending with stirring music.”

THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (2003)

“Oddly, I’m not a big fan of most feature animations, but at the time I saw this, I hadn’t seen any animated feature films before, and this was incredibly original and refreshing for its time. I love French films anyway, and it had quirky music – it’s as much about the music as the story.”

THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)

“When I went to see The Silence Of The Lambs, I thought that it was going to be about a shepherd, and with this one, I thought that it was a sequel to Dumbo! It gave me nightmares afterwards. But I do like dark films and black comedies and tragedies that have a comic element to them rather than comedies with a tragic edge. I was a big David Lynch fan for about a year, and I saw this when I was at The Victorian College Of The Arts, studying filmmaking. I’d read a lot about how he created his soundscapes, and it was interesting that he chose to make the biopic – it was my first biopic too! – in black-and-white. A lot of my films are also in black-and-white, and you’re often discouraged from going down that path.”

THE PIANO (1993)

“This is one of those films with a powerful soundtrack and, without that, it probably wouldn’t be a very good film. Michael Nyman’s score is so rich and layered. It’s still one of my favourite soundtracks. The music is so melancholy and, of course, it’s about a mute woman, and so many of my characters have some form of disability, like the title character in my film, Ernie Biscuit, being a deaf Parisian taxidermist.”

THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER (1989)

“I discovered [writer and director] Peter Greenaway with this lavish and crazy film with Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren. The film was all about that final revenge scene where the wife forces the thief to eat her lover’s cooked penis, as the music builds up to become almost demented. I like revenge films!”

DELICATESSEN (1991)

“I’d seen a lot of [director] Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s shorts before I saw his feature, so I knew what was coming. I loved its directness, comedy, quirkiness, and Frenchness. A few years ago, I received an email from someone saying that they liked Mary And Max and I replied, ‘You have the same name as a famous French director.’ He wrote back and said, ‘That’s me!’ We’ve now actually become friends. I see similarities in our work, and now I’ve become a bit of a Francophile.”

CITY LIGHTS (1931)

“I’m a latecomer to Charlie Chaplin. For some reason, I’d missed out. But I started watching, and this is my favourite: a silent film about the tramp who falls in love with a blind girl selling flowers in the street. I keep watching films about deaf and blind people! It’s tragic and funny and melancholic and dated but still relevant. Now, Charlie Chaplin is validating my desire to be a megalomaniac in wanting to do everything in my films – write, direct, produce, star, do the music…people say that I shouldn’t, and now I can say, ‘But Chaplin did’ and then they can’t argue!”

Mary And Max is available through FilmInk’s new VOD service. Click here for more information.

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