I hope Australia is a huge success. I hope it rakes in a billion dollars, wins Baz Luhrmann that Oscar and simultaneously saves both our film and tourism industries. I also hope that, even more miraculously, it can banish those niggling doubts about Nicole Kidman's acting more effectively than she banished those freckles.
But I must confess that when I watched it, I was left with a sense of weariness. Because while I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains and all that, I'm disappointed that once again, the image of ourselves we've chosen to serve up for our biggest movie in years is the same old blockey, ocker stereotype that the likes of Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson (both of whom, naturally, feature in the film) have been peddling for decades.
Hugh Jackman's character, who is known only as the Drover, is evidently from the same old Mick Dundee school of charm, and wins over Nicole Kidman's prissy, repressed Northern Hemisphere lady much as Hoges himself once won over Linda Kozlowski.
Of course, I wouldn't dream of questioning the originality of a narrative that Oprah Winfrey herself claims swept her off her feet. But I couldn't help wondering whether Luhrmann has ever thought of making a film about the real Australia - the one right outside his doorstep.
So for research purposes I took a stroll outside his doorstep, or at least his massive wrought-iron gates. They're located in the grubby but cool Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst, and there's a car park just around the corner where the friendly neighbourhood ice addicts hang out. Around another corner, there's a famous cafe called Rough Edges that cares for homeless people. But the only rough edges in Australia are on Jackman's chiselled, bearded jaw, and the only ice is in Nicole Kidman's personality.
To be fair, Australian urban grunge has been done to death, literally, in films like Candy and Little Fish. But, thankfully junkies are almost as obscure a slice of life in our cities as drovers. I can only think of one successful local film that has any connection with the Australia I grew up in, and that's Looking For Alibrandi, which is set amid the familiar multicultural tensions of our inner-city suburbs. It leaves the charming romantic comedy with an unflinching portrayal of youth suicide, which is regrettably familiar to so many of us.
But if you go looking for another Alibrandi, you won't have much luck, because few of our filmmakers seem interested in depicting ordinary Australian life - and I bet that even Melina Marchetta novel wouldn't have been filmed if the book hadn't been set for the NSW Higher School Certificate, providing a ready market of students who were keen to get out of reading it.
Most major world cities have thriving film industries that portray local stories. New York has been on our screens and London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and Hong Kong are extremely familiar to moviegoers. Recently Woody Allen has had a late-career resurgence by abandoning Manhattan to set his stories in some of the great cities of Europe, most recently Vicky Cristina Barcelona. But no one's telling stories about ordinary people in Sydney or Melbourne.
We know our actors and directors are among the best in the world, because we punch so far above our weight in Hollywood. And commendably, our stars have bent over backwards to keep appearing in low-budget flicks. So why is the real Australia so conspicuously absent from our screens?
Perhaps due to the remaining residue of our cultural cringe, we're afraid to show ordinary Australian life without a gimmick. Our comedies have been afflicted by the quirkiness syndrome since the success of Priscilla and Muriel's Wedding.
I can only hope that our filmmakers of Baz Luhrmann's calibre are willing to tackle more familiar, local stories, and that local audiences can forgive all the times they're been scalded by mediocre Aussie films.
Circular Quay, Sydney - Sept 2008
City of Sydney - Sept 2008
Botanical Gardens, Sydney - Sept 2008
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