Monday, May 23, 2011

Suburban snow job

Spoiler alert. Some of the key plot elements of Snowtown are discussed here.

Success comes in the most unlikely places. I saw Snowtown just after it got a rave review in the Adelaide Advertiser and was announced as the winner of the audience popularity award at the Adelaide Film Festival. Wiser heads from outside the jurisdiction told me to ignore this home town bias. So as the film about the bodies in the barrels in the bank screened in a Sydney preview theatre, I squirmed with the rest of the audience during its slow revelations of paedophilia, murder and a few other unpopular human activities and felt distinctly uncomfortable in its most brutal sequence, a long torture/killing during which the young man at the centre of the film finally joins in the mayhem. I kept wondering who would want to put themselves through the unedifying ordeal of watching this movie and indeed paying to be put through it.

I found it interesting that the film-makers were concerned to show their social and community concern and the press book, which a friend passed on to me, set out in detail not merely how the production had been informed by consultations with the community to ensure respect but also by casting locals in many of the parts including key roles. The mother and the son were both amateurs who were spotted somewhere in the vicinity. Earnestness of intention was manifest.

Added to that, there are two sequences during the film where the locals sit around drinking, swearing and discussing things and they focus on what should be done to homosexuals, paedophiles and other social undesirables to rid the community of them once and for all. In the second of these discussions the smiling visage of the protagonist serial killer is a smirking, slightly superior presence, goading and provoking those in attendance to be ever more explicit about their desires to take revenge and inflict physical punishment on perceived miscreants. They are scenes where the roots of frustration, ignorance and a predilection for violent solutions are unearthed among the working and under classes of the suburbs. They are I suppose also an explanation as to why there was no great community outrage at any mysterious or unexplained disappearance of gays and others from that local community. I suspect that any locals seeing the film might take exception to this portrayal of callousness and indifference arising from their homophobia.

It’s a rich mix as they say and not without its detractors. I saw one tirade against the film delivered by some fresh-faced ranting know all on morning television. The know all did make one point however in wondering why the film had not been classified R. I thought that it warranted that as well though I have for decades been told that I am a fuddy duddy where it comes to matters like watching a few fingernails prised from their sockets.

But the surprise to me is that Snowtown has opened to very good business indeed. This may be partly explained by the mostly very supportive reviews it has received and its prize at Cannes, described in a press release by the film’s publicist as the “President of the Jury Special Award Grand Prix 2011 Critics' Week”. The first weekend screen averages on its 16 screens were over $10 grand. It might rake in a million or more if it keeps going at that rate.