John Seale: Five unmissable films


Australian cinematographer John Seale is the Oscar-winning eye behind the lens of some of Hollywood’s most memorable moments. This free program ‘Eye of the Storm: The Cinematography of John Seale’ at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA from 8 September – 4 October 2023 celebrates the richness and diversity of his body of work, drawing from a career that spanned across six decades.

Born in Warwick, Queensland, Seale began his career as a camera assistant for the ABC before establishing himself as one of Australia’s most celebrated cinematographers. Making his Hollywood debut shooting the thriller Witness 1985 for fellow Australian Peter Weir, Seale found acclaim in subsequent years for his cinematographic work on Rain Man 1989, The English Patient 1996 (for which he received the Academy Award for Best Cinematography) and the groundbreaking Mad Max: Fury Road 2015.

The English Patient (1996)

Production still from The English Patient 1996 / Director: Anthony Minghella / Image courtesy: Paramount Pictures Australia

Watch | Jean Seale in conversation

Deathcheaters (1976)

John Seale’s first feature film as cinematographer, Deathcheaters is a rollicking gem, newly restored in 4K. Steve and Rodney are Vietnam veterans who have become hellraising stuntmen upon their return to Australia. When an agent of the federal government approaches them about assisting with a high-risk raid on the seemingly impenetrable island base of a Filipino criminal kingpin, they cannot turn down their greatest thrill yet.

Production still from Deathcheaters 1986 / Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith / Image courtesy: Umbrella Entertainment

BMX Bandits (1983)

Bounding big-haired BMX bandits battle bank brigands in this iconic classic of Australian cult cinema. Nicole Kidman – in one of her first screen roles – stars as Lucy, one of the titular biking prodigies. When Lucy and her pals PJ and Goose discover a box of walkie-talkies, they uncover a scheme by a group of crooks who intend to pull off a bank robbery. Filled with eye-popping stunts and vibrant Cinemascope cinematography from John Seale, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s BMX Bandits is an Aussie adventure like no other.

Production still from BMX Bandits 1983 / Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith / Image courtesy: Umbrella Entertainment

Witness (1985)

Harrison Ford stars in this tense thriller from celebrated Australian director Peter Weir. When a young Amish boy witnesses a murder while travelling outside of his community, his statement to Ford’s Detective Sergeant John Book inadvertently reveals a much deeper web of police corruption. A taut neo-noir, Witness is all the more riveting for its canny visual language that shows rather than tells in this tale of parallel societies.

Production still from Witness 1985 / Director: Peter Weir / Image courtesy: Paramount Pictures Australia

The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

A sumptuous, sun-drenched adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr Ripley is a gripping tale of mid-century deception and duplicity. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) is hired by a wealthy shipping magnate to travel to Italy to convince his pleasure-seeking son Dickie (Jude Law) to return to America. Upon arrival, however, the conniving Ripley integrates himself into the lives of Dickie and his girlfriend Marge (Gwenyth Paltrow) in a scheme that grows ever more dangerous — and deadly. An intoxicating and sartorially resplendent thriller.

Production still from The Talented Mr Ripley 1999 / Director: Anthony Minghella / Image courtesy Park Circus

Mad Max: Fury Road (Black & Chrome) (2015)

One of the most visually extraordinary blockbusters ever conceived, Mad Max: Fury Road is an unrelenting cascade of aesthetic extravagance and sensorial overload. Returning to the post-apocalyptic landscape of the Mad Max universe, the film follows Max (Tom Hardy) as he allies himself with the battle-hardened Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as they flee across the desert, pursued by the bloodthirsty warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

This screening of Mad Max: Fury Road will be of the ‘Black & Chrome’ cut, which presents the film in stark monochrome. The removal of the film’s original vibrant colour highlights the searing power of the imagery, conjuring a completely unique journey into the Mad Max wasteland.

Production still from Mad Max: Fury Road 2015 / Director: George Miller / Image courtesy: Roadshow Films

Robert Hughes is Assistant Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

The Australian Cinémathèque
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) is the only Australian art gallery with purpose-built facilities dedicated to film and the moving image. The Australian Cinémathèque at GOMA provides an ongoing program of film and video that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, offering a rich and diverse experience of the moving image, showcasing the work of influential filmmakers and international cinema, rare 35mm prints, recent restorations and silent films with live musical accompaniment by local musicians or on the Gallery’s Wurlitzer organ originally installed in Brisbane’s Regent Theatre in November 1929.