Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Not having seen Australia I am at a disadvantage to thousands of others who have been herded into previews and advance screenings. I am aware however of two interesting emerging phenomena. The film seems to have been summed up in five critical words; “good but not great” and “long”. The most interesting response was in, of all places, R. Murdoch’s very own Sunday Telegraph. I read the piece by a young woman columnist sitting in a cafĂ© at Berry. I expected to find it online but its not there so I cant tell you her name and my recall wont necessarily be perfect. This is what I took to be the gravamen of the piece from less than perfect memory. 1. Baz wanted to make a film about aboriginal dispossession. 2. This is a no-no. It would be regarded as dark and depressing (note those words) so to do. 3. That story has already been told anyway and no one went to see it. It was called Rabbit Proof Fence. 4. Baz thus made a love story involving whitefellas from different classes and embedded within his story set in the outback the 'real' story. 5. The ‘real’ central character is the young Aboriginal who goes through all the horrors that whitefellas have inflicted on blackfellas over a couple of hundred years. 6. Baz’s minders did not want journalists to ask Baz questions about this element of the subject for fear it might turn the punters off. There was a lot more including digs at the campus post-modernists and how they say you can tell stories. That I thought was interesting and I’ll take it with me into the movie.

The second interesting phenomenon is more to be expected. The opportunity has been taken to hop into the rest of the recent, i.e, the last decade or so, Australian film production and, in passing, attack David Stratton for being too generous towards Oyster Farmer in particular and other unspecified films in general. That Oyster Famer review seems to have assumed the status of the single defining event that caused Australian audiences to turn off going to Australian films. The latest right wing mavens to take up this challenge, after Michael Duffy and that ratbag Andrew Bolt (as my late dad always referred to him), were Greg Sheridan in his secondary guise as editorialist on The Australian and the ludicrous Miranda Devine. I say only one thing. The fact that they all obsessively return to this minor matter, scatering their vitriol and insults along the way is amazing to behold. Sheridan insults the intelligence further by gratuitously slagging off Ivan Sen’s wonderful and prize-winning Beneath Clouds as well. I was always convinced that John Howard's press office ke[t an eye on Stratton's opinions. A ;little too pinko for their taste and when the opportunity presented itself Sheridan stuck the boot in. It seems that the demise of the Howard office with its endlessly updated clipping service for selected warriors is sorely missed.

The warriors seem to have collectively decided that apart from Australia (with its themes of aboriginal dispossession, the nation’s unpreparedness for military attack and its setting in a harsh, uncompromising landscape notwithstanding), the rest of our recent cinema is ‘dark and depressing’ as noted above. Occasionally someone remembers Happy Feet and Kenny in this context even though the latter got depressingly dull towards its end. Maybe this isn't the same as depressing. Nobody, except maybe Philip Adams, apparently thinks Mad Max is either dark or depressing. Maybe it’s when the film has both characteristics that it causes a problem.

Someone who continues to feed this into the debate is Brian Rosen, the now film industry feather duster, who continues to find a sympathetic ear with a couple of journalists, most notably Michael Bodey and Gary Maddox. Rosen apparently absolves himself from any responsibility for this state of affairs notwithstanding that he was the head of the Film Finance Corporation for half of the Howard years and decided where the money would be spent. That has given offence to some and you can read one response to it, and to The Australian’s editorial, by Rod Bishop, former and much admired head of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School here at Urban Cinefile. http://urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=15116&s=Forum

1 comment:

Paul Martin said...

Indeed, the major marketing of Australia has been the romance between the two leads. Some unobservant critics who have reviewed the film have been so swept up in the hype and call it a "chick-flick". I wonder if we saw the same film, because chick-flick it aint. I thought the aboriginal themes to be the strongest and most enjoyable. If anything, it's a family film and I look forward to taking my 8-year old to see it. He'll love it more than me, I'm sure.