After working as an editor for the BBC and CBC-TV, Graeme Clifford joined Robert Altman in Canada as assistant editor and second assistant director on "That Cold Day in the Park" (1969). He continued his association with Altman serving as casting director and assistant director on "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (1971) and editor of "Images" (1972). Clifford then edited Nicolas Roeg's eerie psychological thriller, "Don't Look Now" (1973) and "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (1976). He has perhaps earned a special place with audiences for cutting the cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975).
Working on Bob Rafelson's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1981), Clifford met Jessica Lange whom he later cast in the title role of his directorial debut, "Frances" (1982). This intense biopic of screen star Frances Farmer focused on her descent into madness and featured a virtuoso central performance from Lange and a strong supporting one from Kim Stanley as her mother. While some found fault with the film's structure, Clifford was cited for his sure-with actors.
It took several years, however, for the director to find a suitable follow-up. Clifford settled on "Burke & Wills" (1985), another biographical study of the Australian explorers. While not a conventional biopic, the film focused on the 1860 expedition across the continent (not unlike that of Lewis and Clark in the USA). Taking an intense approach to the material, Clifford crafted a film that thematically owed much to the American Western. Aided by Russell Boyd's extraordinary camera work and the strong central performances of Jack Thompson and Nigel Havers, "Burke & Wills" allowed the audience to come to know and care about these historical characters. Although it was a success Down Under, the film found limited release elsewhere in the world.
Clifford next turned to thrillers, helming the minor Christian Slater vehicle "Gleaming the Cube" (1988), a modest film about a skateboarding youth who sets out to find his brother's killers. "Deception/Ruby Cairo" (1993) was released two years after it was filmed, but has its pleasures. Focusing on a woman (Andie MacDowell) following the trail of bank accounts left by her dead husband, it continues to build thematically on the other works in Clifford's oeuvre. All feature a strong central character (or characters) searching for some ineffable, set against a vivid background. Unfortunately, despite his valiant efforts, Clifford has yet to have a major box-office success.
He has fared somewhat better on the small screen. Although he had begun his directing career in the USA with episodes of such series as "Barnaby Jones" and "The New Avengers", it was not until 1989 that Clifford moved into TV longforms. He helmed the eerie remake of "The Turn of the Screw" (Showtime, 1989) and the modern thriller "Past Tense" (Showtime, 1994). Clifford also directed an episode of the off-beat "Twin Peaks" (ABC, 1990) as well as segments of the more character-driven NBC series "Sisters" (1996). That same year, he made his broadcast network longform debut with "Loss of Innocence" (ABC). His first network miniseries, "Mario Puzo's 'The Last Don'" (CBS), was one of the most eagerly anticipated of 1997.