Filmmaker Philippe Mora has been based in the US for more than 30 years but he identifies strongly with Australia, where he spent his formative years and began his career.
So he's thrilled to be shooting in Oz The Surrealist, a 3D movie about an imaginary threesome between Salvador Dalí, his tempestuous wife Gala and the Mona Lisa. Alan Cumming will play the Spanish artist alongside Judy Davis as Gala.
Some believe Mona was actually male so Mora is toying with the idea of casting an actress to play a bloke impersonating a woman, a la Victor/Victoria, or an actor playing a woman.
The supporting characters should be fun to cast as the gallery includes Pablo Picasso, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney, Sigmund Freud, Andy Warhol, John Lennon and George Harrison.
It will be Mora's first Australian-based production since he shot According to Occam's Razor, a mockumentary on aliens and UFOs starring Austen Tayshus, in 2000.
The $US20 million film is a co-production between Australia's Column Pictures (in which Mora is partnered with Charles Waterstreet and Fred Bestall), Canada's Arrow Entertainment (which is also the sales agent) and Germany's Peter Kreutz.
“It's the film Salvador Dalí would have wanted you to see about himself,” Mora told SBS Film from his home in Los Angeles. “It's a surreal fantasy about his love affair with the Mona Lisa. In his imagination he's in this ménage a troi with Gala and the Mona Lisa, and Gala gets very jealous.”
Why the 3D format? Mora explains, “Dalí himself got obsessed with 3D in the early 1950s when the first 3D renaissance occurred in Hollywood. He started doing paintings that required anaglyph glasses to see and he did about 150 paintings in anaglyph 3D.”
The plan is to go into pre-production in September with filming to start in January. Helped by Film Victoria, Mora already has shot some location footage in Mornington Peninsula south east of Melbourne, which resembles the Spanish coast.
The filmmaker has his roots in Australia where he began his career with home movies and short films. In 1975 he wrote and directed the bushranger drama Mad Dog Morgan, starring Dennis Hopper, Jack Thompson and David Gulpilil, and he co-wrote the screenplay for Phillip Noyce's Newsfront in 1978. His first Hollywood movie was 1983's The Beast Within, followed by Howling II and III.
“I'd love to make more films in Australia but it's really difficult for a lot of reasons,” he said. “The Australian film industry has been a very important part of my life, going back to Cinema Papers (the magazine he co-founded).
”It's kind of ironic. I've made more films in Australia than most Australian film directors; that's how bad it is.”
After several brushes with Hollywood, Mora is philosophical about working within the studio system. “I'd be delighted to be a gun-for-hire on a $140 million movie,” he said. “But to go to those meetings and talk to these development executives, it's like, basically, torture. The corporate culture has destroyed what Hollywood used to be.”
Currently he's editing Continuity, a comedy he wrote and directed about a rogue US intelligence agency that since 1945 has been trying to prove that God exists in the belief that this revelation would destroy Communism. Mora himself plays a character code-named Peter Lorre. When it's finished the film will be sold worldwide by Needle & Associates whose founder, Gary Needle, last year negotiated a deal with Kino Lorber for the first ever DVD release in the US of Mora's 1973 documentary Swastika, which featured home movies of the Nazis' rise to power in the 1930s, including some shot by Hitler's mistress Eva Braun.
Last year he filmed German Sons, a documentary in which composer Harald Grosskopf and Mora discuss their fathers. Mora's dad was a member of the French Resistance which helped thousands of Jewish children to survive the German occupation in WW2 while Harald's father was a Hitler supporter who took part in the invasion of Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1939.
As well as preparing for The Surrealist, he's written the books and lyrics for a stage musical, The Sound of Spying, working with Polish composer Adrian Konarski, which looks at spooks on both sides of the Cold War including Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Noel Coward and Cary Grant.
On top of all that, Mora is the subject of a 3D documentary entitled Man Made Mora being produced by Canada's Blue Plate Productions, for which SBS has acquired the TV rights. The doco traces the filmmaker's discovery of two 3D propaganda movies shot in Germany in 1936, So Real You Can Touch It, which shows close-ups of sizzling sausages on a barbeque, and Six Girls Roll into Weekend, which features what is thought to be celebrities from the Universum Film Studio.