Friday, 23 January 2009

Australia - The Movie

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


Lilly's Life said...

That was a fabulous post. I havent seen the movie yet although my sister said the same as you did. I think Bryan Browne plays himself in most movies and he is really that kind of ocker guy. I heard an interview with Baz and he was maintaining that he wanted to show a more mature take on our culture. Was the Aboriginal storyline handled well? My sister thought the young boy stole the show! I will have to go and see it I think. I loved your pictures too. And I also love your headers as well. I might listen to some music while I am here though.

McMGrad89 said...

I don't see many movies, so this one will probably pass me by. Directors and writers often try to appeal to the masses assuming that we only can view things within a predetermined archetype. It's like children and literature. Most stories follow a certain formula. Children's brains are then trained to follow a particular type of story line - like there is a hero and a villain and it all turns out well in the end. This is why students have such a hard time reading nonfiction. Some teachers then find it easier to cater to the level of the student rather than challenging them by raising the bar.

That's all the movie industry is doing. They aren't interested in making the moviegoer think. They just want to make the money. They figure if a person has to think too much to understand the movie, they won't like it and won't recommend it to their friends, and the poor movie will go straight to video.

avtcoach said...

Great post as always. I haven't see the movie yet, I will though. Your premise in this piece speaks loudly of what many around the world say about the movies centered in their own countries. Our NPR had an piece about Slum Dog Millionaire and the way it portrayed the slums of Mumbai India. They too felt that it was not an accurate portrayal.
I think although we as viewers love a good story, we also are victims of a type of propaganda that sways opinion of the world. It is too bad that our only knowledge of certain parts of the world are what is captured in film. That is why I love to find great literature and good documentaries to get a different perspective. That is why knowing you is such a gift. Now I have an alter perspective to turn to when I want to know more.
One thing I did read not too long ago is how the Australian and British men are getting these TV series acting parts in US. They are apparently the right type of look for the American audience. Unless they read up on these actors most probably don't know because they speak with an american accent in the shows. I found this information interesting.
I agree wholeheartedly with your premise. After all, many people around the world still think that Oklahoma is pioneer country with cowboys and real Indian Teepees!

miruspeg said...

Lilly, Annemarie and Coach, thank you for such wonderful loyal readers, you ALWAYS give me such great comments and more "food for thought".

Lilly - Brandon Walters the 13 year old Aboriginal boy who played Nullah, was definitely the star of the show. In my opinion he is the film's only saving grace.

Annemarie - You've captured my point rather sustinctly and eloquently added to the post -
"Some teachers then find it easier to cater to the level of the student rather than challenging them by raising the bar. That's all the movie industry is doing. They aren't interested in making the moviegoer think"......bravo!

Coach - I would love to read your perspective on Oklahoma. I am hungry to learn more about your beautiful state/country.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film "Slumdog Millionaire" and would like to see an Australian movie made along the similar storyline.
I loved the music in the film and the closing credits which imitate a Bollywood-style musical number.

Fly Girl said...

I haven't seen Australia yet and was interested in hearing your perspective on it. Like most movies, moviegoers will see what the director wants them to see... the only way to truly feel and see the essence of a country is to visit it or to see documentaries as AVT Coach mentioned. Even when visiting a country, we are usually only exposed to the areas that fit our touristy destinations. Really "seeing" a place requires some submersion in its culture, which is a hard thing to do when just visiting for a short while. You managed to see much more than many others have with your visit to Africa. As you shared your love of photography with the local children, you received more than a quick glance into their lives.

I may have to rent Australia just so I can see the "sweeping plains" and "sunburnt country," as long as you can verify that I will actually be seeing some of Australia's terrain! The magic of movies is often created in some other country's sweeping plains!

miruspeg said...

Roban - another loyal reader who takes the time to read my long ramblings and write such in-depth comments....tah muchly!
"Australia" was filmed locally so you will definitely see many areas of my beautiful sunburnt country like the Kimberly region in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Bowen in Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef region also in Queensland.
Its been over 2 years since I travelled to Rwanda, Africa and I relive my time spent with those beautiful children often.
When I visit your amazing country in 2010 I hope to "really see" it with the help of friends like you.

zack said...

This is a a fabulous movie. I havent seen this type of movie yet. i love it...........

Download free Australia movie