This book offers introductory readings of some of the well-known and less well-known feature productions coming out of Australia since the revival in the national film industry at the end of the 1960s. The interpretations of the texts and the careers of their makers are considered in relation to the emergence of an indigenous film culture and the construction of national identity. The majority of the films examined in the book have had theatrical or video releases in the UK. The independent development of several indigenous film genres has been an important feature of recent production, and helped to punctuate and bracket the streams of feature production that have evolved since 1970. These Australian genres have been identified and evaluated (the Australian Gothic, the period film, the male ensemble film) and are worthy of consideration both in their own right and in their intersection with other conventionalised forms. These include science fiction, fantasy and horror in comparison with the Gothic, the heritage film and literary adaptation in connection with the period film, and the war film and rite of passage in relation to the male ensemble. More recently, an aesthetic and thematic trend has emerged in the examples of Strictly Ballroom, The Adventures of Priscilla, and Muriel's Wedding, which foregrounds elements of the camp, the kitsch and the retrospective idolisation of 1970s Glamour. Such chronological, stylistic and thematic groupings are important in the interpretation of national filmmaking.
This book undertakes a consideration of the depiction of naval warfare within British and American cinema. The films (ranging from examples from the interwar period, the Second World War, the Cold War and contemporary cinema) encompass all areas of naval operations in war, and highlight varying institutional and aesthetic responses to navies and the sea in popular culture. Examination of the films centres on their similarities to and differences from the conventions of the war genre as described in earlier analyses, and seeks to determine whether the distinctive characteristics of naval film narratives justify their categorisation as a separate genre or sub-genre in popular cinema. The explicit factual bases and drama-documentary style of many key naval films (such as In Which We Serve, They Were Expendable and Das Boot) also require a consideration of them as texts for popular historical transmission. Their frequent reinforcement of establishment views of the past, which derives from their conservative ideological position towards national and naval culture, makes these films key texts for the consideration of national cinemas as purveyors of contemporary history as popularly conceived by filmmakers and received by audiences.
As in the case of the major European film industries, Australia's history of filmmaking represented a source of nostalgia, pride and regret for those who sought the rebirth of the national cinema during the 1970s. The standard to which all other national forms of film expression are compared is that of Hollywood, and the American film industry casts an equally long shadow in economic terms. The ideological purpose behind the dominant representations and images of nationhood produced by the Australian cinema is linked to enduring colonial, cultural associations. The stereotypes of Australianness which emerged in early, successful or favoured cinematic representations have entered the consciousness of local and foreign audiences. The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and They're A Weird Mob stressed the contrasting commercial and generic influence of America in Australian cinema. These films depict the solitary Australian either abroad or at home and successful at home and overseas.
Australian Gothic represents a mode, a stance and an atmosphere, after the fashion of American Film Noir, with the appellation suggesting the inclusion of horrific and fantastic materials comparable to those of Gothic literature. The perversity of rural townships and their residents forms the basis of Gothic texts which in other respects reflect debts to generic entertainment, social polemics, fantasy and allegory. Peter Weir's first feature production The Cars That Ate Paris portrays the Outback town as the seat of deranged authority. The considerable commercial success of Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 (1981) both at home and abroad is attributable to the strong generic basis for their narratives, characterisation and iconography. Max's heroic tasks grow in stature and destructiveness as the cycle progresses. In the cases of Walkabout and Shame, a significant part of the horror resides in the defamiliarisation of natural and human landscapes away from urbanisation.
Graeme Turner's judgement of the place and significance of the period films produced during the revival re-emphasises several key issues already acknowledged in relation to the Ocker comedies and the Australian Gothic. The film credited with inspiring the cycle of period films, and with endowing the new Australian cinema with an aesthetic maturity belying its age, was Picnic at Hanging Rock. Picnic's basis in the Gothic and its extension of its director's interest in alienating subjective experience underline the film's adoption of a period setting in order to offer a critique of authority within a fantasy-horror format. Fred Schepisi's films which use the period setting focus on male experience of intolerance and oppression, and refuse to temper their criticism of prevailing attitudes through simplification of issues or prettification of mise-en-scene. Sirens achieves a belated revival of the period film cycle, while developing the themes of its writer-director.
The male ensemble film, in its first phase up to Breaker Morant, is strongly influenced by the posture of the ocker; blunt, loud, hedonistic and conservative in the populist manner. The first revival film to foreground the male milieu and masculine ethics was Sunday Too Far Away. The absence of female characters in Sunday Too Far Away highlights the exclusivity of the male group and professional affiliations. The Club's depiction of sporting and business rivalries within a football club offers a further example of a male-dominated milieu within Australian society. The inevitability of fate in Gallipoli is comparable with the inexorable socio-political forces exerting their influence over the characters of Between Wars. Portrayals of male mates in later Australian film have outstripped the ambiguities, recessiveness or conservatism characterising the earlier cycle of male-centred dramas.
Several Australian films of the 1990s incorporate Gothic elements, and often exaggerate the irony, black humour and reflexive characteristics exhibited by Gothic films of the 1970s and 1980s. Death in Brunswick adopts the Gothic sensibility wholeheartedly in its blackly humorous portrait of individual inadequacy, family authority and racial tension. A superior rendition of formative experience, which combines the rite of passage with the Gothic and the period film, is found in Celia. Having been made with the assistance of the Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC), Death in Brunswick went on to become the second highest grossing Australian film at the home box office in 1991. Muriel's Wedding is centred in the rite of passage formal. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert extends the motifs of personal growth allied to travel seen in Muriel's Wedding by adhering closely to the road movie genre.
The recreation of the Australian film industry in the 1970s and its subsequent survival on economic and aesthetic terms have been inseparable from debate over sources of finance. The reception and encouragement of the period film cycle has been taken as evidence of a regimentation of treatment in the service of a primary political objective. This is to define and broadcast an expedient, respectable and marketable form of Australian identity at a crucial moment in the development of national consciousness. The groups of films addressed in this book have been categorised by critics or have aligned themselves with generic patterns, in response to their maker's intentions and their audience's expectations. Stereotypical representations of Australian masculinity are found in The Overlanders, They're A Weird Mob and Crocodile Dundee. These representations strive to designate the white, classless, individualistic male as the archetypal Australian, defined strictly by or in relation to outsiders.
Finding meaning and identity in the rural Australian landscape
This chapter offers a consideration of the significance of the Australian landscape within notable features, from the revival to the present. Landscape has played a conspicuous and complex role in the concretisation of the national cinema for audiences at home and abroad. It has been a crucial factor in the distillation of national identity throughout the country's history, as the natural, acquired or adopted home for a disparate conglomeration of imagined communities. Four preliminary and expository images can be offered as illustrations of the complex and contradictory responses to the landscape embraced by Australian films: Long Weekend, The Man from Snowy River, My Brilliant Career and Rabbit-Proof Fence. In the often hybridised generic territory referred to as the Australian Gothic, the landscape is a key element in the exploration of cultural anxieties arising from colonial experience.