Love it or hate it – every February the “Oscar” fever hits the media and you can rarely turn on the television or open the newspaper without hearing a mention of an actor, director or movie which is up for nomination. Australia of course has its own award ceremony in the form of the Australian Film Awards which was founded in 1958, 29 years after the first Annual Academy Awards were held.
But Australia actually played a large role in early cinematic history. A little known but important achievement was that the Australian Film Industry produced what was thought to be the world’s first full length feature film in 1906. The Story of the Kelly Gang was a success in both Britain and Australia and spawned the bushranger genre.
Australian cinema thrived during the silent era particularly due to Raymond Longford who is recognised as the leading director of early Australian cinema and his long term association with Lottie Lyell. Lottie Lyell is thought to be the most significant woman during the first 100 years of Australian feature film making and her career covered all aspects of film making both on screen and behind the camera.
The Sentimental Bloke which was originally a verse penned by CJ Dennis in 1915 was directed by Longford and co-starred Lyell and was undoubtedly her best known role. It opened in 1919 and broke existing box office records. Lyell not only co-starred as Doreen but she is also believed to have co-written the screenplay and titles, was involved in editing, art direction and also in the overall production of the film.
Lottie Lyell starred in 24 movies and was involved in the writing of at least 11 movies in her short but successful career. Lottie Lyell sadly died at the age of 35 due to tuberculosis.
The trade magazine “Everyones” published an obituary of Lottie in 1925 which referred to her death as “a distinct blow to the major picture industry” and “the loss of one who has left her mark of her genius on Australia’s screen progress”.
After Lyell’s death, Longford did not direct or produce another successful film and her death seemed to be something which Longford carried throughout the rest of his life.