Punk Surrealist:
Kim Miles

by Bill Mousoulis

The first time I met Kim Miles was when I was casting for one of my no-budget features.  In between all the plastic Hollywood wannabes that waltzed into my audition headquarters (my home), there shuffled in an unusual figure, spindly, with unkempt hair,  a little edgy, and more interested in conversing philosophically than actually auditioning for me.  When he (Kim was male at that point) left, I thought to myself – well, there’s an interesting person.  I couldn’t cast him for the film though, and I thought no more about him after that.


A few years later, I was watching a program of short films somewhere, and suddenly realised that a couple of the shorts I was watching, which were quite inventive and playful, were actually made by the very same person, Kim Miles.  I smiled and thought to myself – well, that’s an interesting development.  I walked home and decided that I must hunt Kim down, and I did, watching more of his films, culminating in me programming a mini retrospective of his work for the Melbourne Underground Film Festival in 2006.  (You can actually see the program notes and list of films here.)

In those years, the mid-to-late ‘00s, he would come to my place to borrow books and videos, and, over some time, I saw him transform into a woman.  Again, an interesting development!  (Well, not a “woman” as such, more “transgender”, and, as she informs me herself, these days the more correct term is “gender diverse”.)  Clearly, Kim was an interesting filmmaker in more ways than one!

Shooting forward to now, 2018, we can see the ups and downs of her filmmaking career.  It’s not easy making a film, any film, and to do it at the true independent level (i.e. without any funding whatsoever) for years and years can be a gruelling, difficult task.

The Purpose of Life and the Nature of Death
The World Really is W

It’s an impressive body of work.  From 2002 to 2011, she made 22 short films. She then made 2 “web series” (composed of 5 or 6 short segments each) between 2012 and 2014.  But then she came to a standstill, until this year, 2018, where she has shot and is currently editing a film entitled Exit Wounds.

Kim Miles is punky, and surrealistic, but also experimental and whimsical.  It’s an extraordinary combination, making her quite unique in the Melbourne indie film scene.  Her masterpiece is Sick to the Vitals (2005), a tour-de-force of alienation and redemption.  It’s quite astonishing to see her get to that point within just a couple of years of picking up a camera, from her early fumblings such as the personal diary film Love and Death (2002) and the capturing life on the streets document Living and Art (2002).  But she was a quick learner, being a searcher, a seeker.  Here was someone who was not going to die wondering.

You can see her steps:  the comedy of the karate parody Suzi Wong’s Big Day Out (2002);  the semi-naked performance art (Kim himself) piece The Purpose of Life and the Nature of Death (2002);  her first attempts at slow and fast motions (which are always inventive) in Proportion of Australian males with erectile problems: nearly 40% (2003);  her first attempts at gathering ensembles and fucking around with them in I thought I wasn’t (2003) and The World Really is W (2004);  her first attempts at abstraction in Terra Australis (2004);  and her first attempts at perversity and surreality in Top Speed of a Rabbit – 72 KPH (2004) and To Master a Long Good Night (2005).

These first dozen or so short films she made in her first four years of filmmaking are some of the most imaginative filmmaking I’ve seen in Australian cinema.  You can see that her brain is wired differently to the average filmmaker.  An auto-didact, but with a love of the cinema, she constantly looks for the off-beat thing to do.  The scripts are loose.  It is more about the inspiration in the moment of shooting, and, in particular, the moment of editing.  There’s a mix of actors with non-actors.  There’s a mix of punk music, jazz music, and natural sounds.  The colour is heightened, the framings eclectic, the mood wacky.  And the reality gets bent, always: it goes slow, it goes fast, it freezes, it goes backward.  Everything they teach you not to do in film school, Kim does.  (I can’t call her “Miles” – her films are too individual, too human, for her to be called by her surname.)

Top Speed of a Rabbit – 72 KPH
Top Speed of a Rabbit – 72 KPH

Where does one begin?  There’s inventiveness everywhere.  I particularly love The World Really is W, probably Kim’s finest ensemble piece.  Ostensibly set in an office, the dozen or so men (and one woman) are in their shirts and ties, bored, and the rhythmic punky music catches them in weird poses, and speeds them up, and slows them down, and stops and loops them, and then lets them dance crazily, to some Casio-dance music.  It’s off-beat and hilarious.  Top Speed of a Rabbit – 72 KPH then takes one of the office workers (Peter Lesley) to a bar, where he picks up two women, and they go back to his place for a wild party, and proceedings are on the verge of perversity, and then they flip surrealistically, as Kim presents us with her homage to Cocteau.  You just marvel at her dexterity.  Many of these early short films are surprising and delightful.

These first short films of hers were the launchpad into Sick to the Vitals.  They were all 10 minutes or under.  All of a sudden, she attempted a 20 minute film, with an actual narrative premise to it.  The short films were inventive sketches;  Sick to the Vitals was more like a grand narrative and statement.  And it came out brilliantly.  It has a gravitas that the previous films lack, as it charts the rise and fall and redemption of a female singer, who, having won Australian Idol, is now struggling with her fame, and is drug-addled most of the time.

The film is a collection of bravura set pieces.  The opening scene is intentionally banal, two girls at a shopping mall talking about buying lipstick and clothes, and the film freezes on them and then morphs into its extraordinary first set-piece, thrusting us into the dark (literally) world of its heroine, with the drugs, the sex, the crazy fans.  Kim’s master stroke here is the use of the dissonant music of Sonic Youth throughout the film.  It gives a power to the film, as our heroine slips in and out of consciousness, wild nightmares and sublime dreams taking possession of her, away from prosaic reality.  But there is a stunning moment of redemption for her in the last scene, as she literally uses the power of rock’n’roll to express how she’s “feeling better” with her life.

But any description I offer here would not be able to do justice to the power of this film, which for me is one of the best Australian films of all time.  So, have a look for yourselves.  If there’s one Kim Miles film you’re going to see, this is it:


Seemingly at the height of her powers with Sick to the Vitals, Kim used this energy to create two striking shorts immediately afterwards – Untitled (2006) and Four Women at a Bar (2006).  Continuing the dream stylisations from Sick to the Vitals, Untitled is set in an “other” zone, totally stylised, glowing rooms, men and women as “figures”, exchanging strange looks and violent jabs.  It’s eerie and unusual, Kim at her experimental best.  Four Women at a Bar also has heightened, glowing visuals, taking a prosaic situation (four women sitting at a bar, with a barman serving them) and transforming it into an other-worldly event.  The women are sped up at one point, and their voices are also sped up, as they bitch about this and that.  Unfortunately, the sped up voices are an experiment that fails, as Kim can’t transcend the comic feel they produce.  Otherwise, it’s another quirky delight from Kim, complete with dance music.

Her next films are down-beat and deflated.  John (2009) uses the same fast motion voices we heard in Four Women at a Bar, and again the comic nature of the voices stifles the film.  The film is a mock documentary on the making of a film, the audition process, as Kim (playing herself) guides a number of male actors in some taped auditions.  It’s an experiment that doesn’t quite resonate, self-reflexivity seemingly not Kim’s forte.  But 9 Years Since Polly Passed is even grimmer: in B&W realistic tableaux, we see a couple bicker and act ugly with each other, in an endless display of their twisted love for each other.  Kim seems to be aiming for something else though, not just pure realism, as the slow but sprightly jazz music pushes proceedings into another area, but ... it’s not clear where.  It seems Kim is expressing sympathy, tenderness, even whimsy, for her characters, but, it falls flat.

Four Women at a Bar
9 Years Since Polly Passed

But the next film is a triumph.  It looks like Kim decided to push herself again, with another “longer” film, another 20 minute one.  11 Minutes on Sunday (2009) is a breakthrough, a breath of fresh air, as if Kim decided to “just relax”, and let the film come to her, and us, the gratefully accepting audience.  The quality I’ve mentioned a few times now is at the fore here: whimsy.  It’s like a Jacques Tati film almost, a whimsical observation piece of a number of different people, over one Sunday morning.  The reality isn’t distorted – we see everyday life, everyday people, but with little touches of surreality and absurdity.  Kudos to the editor (Kim has worked with several different editors over the journey), Michael Wormald, who masterfully structures the elements, with judicious bits of jazz (but also pleasing natural sounds), rotating the different sections around each other.  It’s a joyful film, one that dances freely.  It smiles at us.

Two more short films are made in this period:  Funny Guy (2010) and A Hesitant Move (2011).  It’s clear that as Kim gets more experience, she becomes more sophisticated as a director, but the downside of this is that the films can become more conventional.  These two films, and 9 Years Since Polly Passed, could have been made by anyone, with their “clever” scripts and “accomplished” acting.  Okay, they’re superior conventional films, due to their edge, but they are a far cry from the early, anarchic, punky Kim short films like The World is Really W or The Purpose of Life and the Nature of Death.

11 Minutes on Sunday
Tiger and Dog

Sensing this, I think Kim tried something different next, to get her creative juices flowing again: the “web series”.  With this format, she could leave the narratives open-ended, as she created different “episodes” around certain characters and situations.  Tiger and Dog (2012-3) and Melbourne Girls (2014) emerged from this period, in full gory colour (after a number of B&W shorts), and indeed with a more punky “freedom” to them.  At the very least, they are entertaining and engaging, if not particularly surreal.

And now we await her “comeback” film, after some years of inactivity, the enticingly-titled Exit Wounds (2018).  It promises to be another "long" film for her (over 20 minutes).  That augurs well, as every time she tries a “big” film, she comes up with something brilliant.

Kim Miles – I salute you.  There’s no-one quite like you in the Australian independent film scene.


Bill Mousoulis is a Greek-Australian independent filmmaker since 1982, and occasional writer on film.

Published May 8, 2018. © Bill Mousoulis 2018