I couldn’t leave out our Antipodean relatives, could I? Despite reviling us as whingeing Poms, and stereotyping all British characters as blustering, officious buffoons, they still deserve a mention. The film industry did not have a great start in Australia. Every film seemed to star Chips Rafferty, and most of them were about sheep-shearers, cattle drovers, or diggers brewing tea in billycans. Kangaroos always seemed to feature at some stage, and the Aboriginal people were generally patronised, and referred to as ‘black fellas’. There were some exceptions of course, but as anyone who reads my blog will tell you, I love a sweeping generalisation.
After the end of the 1960’s, a new style of film-making appeared from Australia, and film-goers, and critics alike, started to sit up and watch, and began to take them seriously. The following suggestions are mostly well-known, though some will not be so familiar. If you thought that Aussie films were all about Mel Gibson (he is actually American, born in New York State in 1956 ) as Mad Max, The Gallipoli campaign, and awkward comedies, think again, and enjoy these offerings.
Walkabout. This 1971 film was directed by the very talented Nicolas Roeg, and stars the English actress Jenny Agutter. She was 19 at the time, yet plays the part of a younger, teenage schoolgirl, and carries it off with aplomb. One of the director’s relatives, Luc Roeg, is equally good as her young brother, and the two of them form the only cast, for the first part of the film. The third star is the Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, who has had a distinguished career in Australian cinema until the present day. He is on the ‘Walkabout’ that gives the film its title; the travels of a teenage Aboriginal, necessary to pass into the condition of manhood. The characters played by Ms.Agutter, and the young Roeg, are fish out of water, abandoned in the outback, when their father commits suicide, leaving them stranded in an alien wilderness. Their situation is perilous, until they meet the Aboriginal boy played by Gulpilil, and he protects them, gets them food, and shows them a different view of life, outside of the city ways that they are used to. The scenery and cinematography are both simply breathtaking, and the acting from all concerned, is a joy to behold. There are some problems with the ending perhaps, and there has been criticism of the nudity shown in the film. However, I would suggest that you disregard all that, and enjoy something completely original, and as relevant now, as it was over 40 years ago. This is the scene when they meet the aboriginal boy for the first time.
The Horseman. This film is more up to date, and it shows. Made in 2008, this greulling revenge thriller pulls no punches, with its story of drug users, sexual abuse, pornography, and brutal killings. By now, you will have already guessed that it is not an easy watch, and you will have guessed right. The central character, played by Peter Marshall with incredible intensity, is grieving over the loss of his daughter. He receives a video tape in the post, showing her being given drugs, and gang-raped. Driven half-crazy by this, he embarks on a road trip of revenge, on the way helping another wayward young woman he encounters. Pacy, nervy, and incredibly violent, this film is nonetheless a compelling ride. Not for the faint hearts though. This is the official trailer.
The Odd Angry Shot. This is a war film, that doesn’t really show much war, yet is somehow all the better for that. Set during the Australian participation in the Vietnam War, in 1967, (yes, they were there) it has a cast of Australian acting stalwarts, led by the always reliable Bryan Brown, and Graham Kennedy. Although made in 1979, it is like many later films, showing the war as long periods of boredom, followed by short, sharp, action. Because of the setting, and the fact that the soldiers are Australians, it is an oddity in the history of films about Vietnam. It also shows the effect of combat on the men, and the difficulties that they encounter, returning home to face the derision of the people, for their involvement in an unpopular conflict. This short clip is a montage of scenes.
Picnic at Hanging Rock. This almost legendary film has a predominantly female cast, and the action takes place in 1900. Made in 1975 by Peter Weir, who went on to direct many critically acclaimed films, it was long considered by many (including myself) to be about a real event. This was not the case however, and it is fictional. This is a dream-like film, about a trip to the country by a group of girls from an elite boarding school. The haunting sound track is so distinctive, that I can recall it in my head, at any time. The hazy summer heat, and the scenery of the Australian bush around the Hanging Rock, give the film an ethereal quality, a feeling increased by the young ladies, dressed in flowing skirts, relaxing in the afternoon heat. When a group of them decide to make the arduous climb to the top of the rock, the film takes a sinister turn. Some never return, and a search begins, both for the missing girls, and for answers as to what occurred there. Don’t miss this one, it stands alone as a film that could probably only work, if set in Australia at the turn of the century. This trailer gives an overview of the events in the film.
Breaker Morant. This time, it is a true story, about events during the Boer War, in South Africa, around 1902. Although starring the English actor, Edward Woodward, this is a very Australian film. Made in 1980, by the well-known Australian film-maker Bruce Beresford, it also stars Australian ‘regulars’ Bryan Brown, and Jack Thompson. The plot centres around the court-martial of three Australian officers, commanded by Lieutenant Harry Morant, the ‘Breaker’ of the title, named for his skill in taming horses. They are accused of killing prisoners during an action against Boer irregulars, something that they actually did, and attempt to justify as an act of war. Much of the story is told in flashback, and the action sequences, uniforms, and military procedures, are all completely authentic. Despite a spirited defence by the officer representing the men, the High Command are determined to find them guilty, as they are trying to make peace with the Boers, and need to set an example. An interesting work, about a subject rarely filmed, with first rate performances from the entire cast. This very short clip shows a scene from the Court martial. Great stuff.
There you go, five from ‘down under’, and not a Mel Gibson in sight. Two films set during very different wars, two films about unique events, and one hard-to-handle modern thriller; not a bad effort, if I say so myself.