This is a guest post written by Greg Davies. Greg is known in social media circles as cGt2099, and runs the sites The-TrukstoP.com and WallabyDown.com. We’ve previously featured his inestimable talents on the post:
Before the Galaxy Far, Far Away: Influences on ‘Star Wars’
One of the most expected movies of 2008, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, also turned out to be one of the most polarizing. When the film was finally released, it was subject to a wide range of reviews; from positive to neutral to negative… it was unmistakable that the movie would not be universally loved as the hype before release had many people believe.
While Australia is not exactly a terrible film, it’s not exactly an exceptional one either. It does have its flaws; though it was overall well-received in my home nation from which the film gets its namesake.
It can be quite exasperating for many Aussies though, when only certain films about the Great Southern Land get all of the misdirected worldwide attention, while other fabulous movies are frighteningly underrated and rarely get seen by people outside of Australia.
Before you dive into renting or buying a copy of Luhrmann’s Australia on DVD/Blu-Ray (available Tues, Mar. 3rd); contemplate some of the following Aussie films that not only capture the essence of the Australian spirit, but are far superior documentations of Australian culture and history…
Many Americans have probably never heard of The Castle, but it has got a minor cult following in the USA. Released in 1997, the film was an Aussie comedy featuring the unique and hilarious talents of Michael Caton and Eric Bana (While we’re on the subject, for those who are unaware, Eric Bana actually began his career in Australia as a television comedian – well before the days of turning into the Hulk). The plot behind the film follows a Melbourne airport wanting to take over the main character’s family home and property for expansion purposes. However, this plot line, while solid and entertaining, takes second place to the ethics and attitude of working class Aussies (“the battlers”) and how they fit into contemporary Australia.
While the Americans had Billy the Kid and Jesse James; Australia’s celebrated outlaw was Ned Kelly. Now a cultural icon, and a hero in the eyes of some, Ned Kelly was a bushranger that became a hunted lawbreaker by the Victorian police. He has been the subject of many films (including one misguided attempt in the 1970’s featuring Mick Jagger in the lead role), but undoubtedly the best film to portray this historic figure was one released in 2003, with Heath Ledger acting as Ned. Accompanied by Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, and Joel Edgerton, the movie was based on the novel Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe; and is considered to be perhaps one of the more precise portrayals of Ned Kelly. On top of that, the movie depicts the hardened and muddied lives of Australians during the late 1800’s, from the dishonesty among authorities to the light-hearted larrikinism of the working-class of the time.
Every year, on April 25, Australians commemorate ANZAC Day – a day of remembrance and tribute to the soldiers who fought and died in the First World War, and all the wars that followed. The day of celebration gets its name from the ANZACs – The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The events of Australia’s involvement in World War I was the coming-of-age for the nation; and culminated in the Battle of Gallipoli, fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey – conceivably one of the most bloodiest and brutal battles of the war. Tens of thousands of ANZAC troops fought at Gallipoli – and many of these young men faced their deaths on this battleground. It was a time of grieving for the young nation of Australia – and the remembrance is always celebrated with more sobering respect than with elaboration or fanfare. Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli not only portrays the battlefield events of this chapter of the First World War, but leads up to the climactic battle with finely honed accuracy of the Australian identity – from the lifestyles down under during the time period, to the Australian solidarity among soldiers during war time. The film was a massive success in Australia, was a launch pad for Mel Gibson’s career, and is perhaps one of the best known films for capturing the Aussie spirit.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Irreverent humor is a part of the Australian uniqueness, and has been for decades. Out of many of the Aussie films to surface over the years, Priscilla is most definitely one that plays on the distinctive Aussie sense of humor. The story centers around three drag queens (including General Zod and Agent Smith!), travelling from Sydney to Alice Springs in a bus (dubbed Priscilla) for a show at a casino. While the movie is well known for its breathtaking footage of the outback, it is perhaps better known for highlighting the immense contrast between Aussie city culture and Aussie rural culture – and highlights the issues surrounding tolerance and acceptance of other people in the modern era. Besides all this, it’s a magnificent film – even worth seeing just to hear Terence Stamp say the line, “That’s just what this country needs. A cock in a frock on a rock”… or of course another classic: “Now listen here, you mullet. Why don’t you just light your tampon, and blow your box apart? Because it’s the only bang you’re ever gonna get, sweetheart!”
This movie is unmistakably one of the more striking and significant Australian films to have been released in the last decade. The account is a tale from the Stolen Generation – a generation of young Australian Aboriginal children who were ‘stolen’ from their parents by the government in a foolish attempt to integrate them into “White Culture”. The Aboriginal people of Australia have been subject to many injustices by the governments through history, and the tale of the Stolen Generation is but a part of a long and sad tale of how such a rich and vibrant culture was almost erased by ignorant powers-that-be. The story of Rabbit-Proof Fence follows the trek of three young girls who run away from the Moore River Native Settlement in an attempt to return to families. Their journey home shows them following the 1,500 miles of the Australian rabbit-proof fence (a fence created to exclude rabbits, and other pests from pastoral areas). Rabbit-Proof Fence is an moving film – one that not only how far we have come in Australian race relations, but also one that gives a sobering reminder of how far we have yet to travel. The movie was the recipient of several awards, and also features a remarkable performance by Kenneth Branagh.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
While The Road Warrior is not necessarily a film that captures the quintessence of the Australian spirit, it is significant in its international impact as an Australian film. The movie helped strengthen the strength of the growing Australian film industry; and it also popularized the post-apocalyptic film genre that would see many imitations appear from all corners of the globe for decades after its release.