Sirens (1994)

Sirens (1994), written and directed by John Duigan.

New to Australia, an English clergyman and his wife visit scandalous artist Norman Lindsay. Their mission: persuade him to withdraw a blasphemous work ("The Crucifixion of Venus") from an art exhibition.

Being polite and proper British folk, Australia isn't easy for them. They are the butt of rude humor and there is still resentment over the way colonials were treated in the First World War.

But this is as nothing compared to the provocation and seductiveness of Lindsay's household, with three lovely models and a wife who also models for him. It's like other films -- A Room with a View (1985), Enchanted April (1992) -- where warm, relaxed climates cause stiff Brits to loosen up and become more sensual. This time with light eroticism and appealing -- and artistic! -- nudity.

It is meant to be a debate between Christian moralism and the sensual, artistic life of free sexuality. It's no contest: the clergyman realizes he is a ridiculous figure and is given no chance to make his case. Which would be pointless anyway: intellectual arguments cannot compete with the lived experience.

His wife moves between the two worlds. The motif of the "sirens" who lure men onto the rocks is not tempting just for men. Not at all. In the end it is the sirens who save her. Her husband will come along eventually.

It's all lightly comic, not meant to be heavy or tragic. Oddly enough there are hints of danger: snakes in the Garden, insect life, newspaper headlines about shark attacks, etc. Is that supposed to accentuate the erotic?

I just rewatched Age of Consent (1969) based on Norman Lindsay's novel and wanted to see more of him, in this case a fictionalized episode based on a real scandal. They were able to film at his actual house, now a museum. The statuary in the gardens is all his.

Our players:

One of the young women is Elle Macpherson and I remember thinking at the time that the thin supermodel figure was really not appropriate for the project. Now I read that she put on twenty pounds for the role and in fact all of the models have that voluptuous look that Lindsay favored.

Lovely score by Rachel Portman. The original score by Geoffrey Burgon was rejected.

Available as an all-region Blu-ray import on the Umbrella label from Australia. The video is 1080i50. No subtitles but downloadable tracks are available online.

A commentary track carried forward from the DVD features director John Duigan and producer Sue Milliken. They say the women were tentative about all the nudity at first, but felt empowered by the end.