Tuesday, July 14, 2009

she’ll be right mate... drink up!

if william golding had grown up in the australian outback he may well have written wake in fright. instead kenneth cooke created a masterpiece which mirrors the reduction of human nature in a similar vein as lord of the flies did with a bunch of english public school boys on an island. except he did it under the paradigm of mateship rather than overt competition begging the question: with friends like these who needs enemies?

with director ted kotcheff at the helm who later went on to direct rambo first blood and more, the hobbeslike brutality dripping in leviathan red illustrating the nature of man [aided by a drink or two] is the nature of war is complete in a gratuitous no-holds barred raw ritualised flesh fest of brawn, blood, sweat & lust. it’s a base religious pilgrimage of sorts mirroring milton’s paradise lost with the descent of lucifer from heaven to hell and the bastardisation of fermented purity.

lost for almost 40 years after premiering as “outback” & nominated for a golden palm award at cannes, this 1971 rare film has been recently restored after two long lost copies were sourced & digitally remastered after being bequeathed to the australian film & sound archive as a result of a tireless quest undertaken by the editor’s [tony buckley] promise to a dying man… it only recently premiered once more at the 56th sydney film festival & currently enjoys a limited theatrical release in australia. i saw it tonight at the chauvel cinema.

this film is unapologetically beautiful yet brutal. savagely exposing the underbelly of the ubiquitous trademark misogynist australian culture propped up by an environment of repressed homo-eroticism fuelled by constant alcohol consumption, this indictment on what maketh a man in the most testosterone-filled culture on earth is insightful & uncompromising.

aussie stereotypes of masculinity are ruthlessly questioned & parodied with skilful subtlety in this outback expose which takes no prisoners. this film may have been uncomfortable when it first played but it still resoundingly rings close to the truth now. its relevance goes beyond the desert past broken hill from where it was originally conceived.

the protagonist, john grant’s behaviour is highlighted as questionable by the boys as they sink cans upon cans of beer because he’d “rather talk to a woman than drink”. the woman who he talks to is a slag, a slut, considered common property not only be virtue of her automatically assigned gender inferiority but because she allegedly has sexual encounters with more than one men who in turn are doing the same not just with women but potentially each other and the beasts which surround them. the question of beasts, bestiality and civilisation is broached by the doc [donald pleasance] in a drunken rant as he ironically quotes socrates’ demise.

two key things about "the yabba": 1. “sex is just like eating, it’s a thing you do when you want it” 2. "in yabba the water is only good for washing up. here, have a beer”. fare ye well eden…

with constant references to the "real" australia film which should have recently been made, there are no baz luermann cattle herding scenes but the harsh realism exercised in the kangaroo culling scenes was afforded through contributions with actual original footage of the mass shooting “control” campaigns which were undertaken by the authorities at the time. it’s not for the squeamish but the impact is unquestionable.

the shots [camera & gunshot], writing, merciless blowing apart & up of kangaroos all over the screen are, um, shockingly real. but it works. glamour of the kill is suitably deconstructed to its most base horror through the teacher’s [played by gary bond] eyes when he experiences brief moments of clarity through his constant peer pressured inebriation which is a symbol of his demise and degradation as he submits into a lifestyle he initially sneered at in his superior anglicised school teacher fashion. this in turn signals the success of the others to entrench & debase the aloof other into their rank.

the law of the bush is the ultimate leveller. the men are willing dark agents of his and their own squalid doom in the yabba which serves as an anti-religious sodom of sorts. the marqis de sade illustrated the degradation of 120 days worth, john grant manages to traverse the realm from heaven to hell in a short sweaty five. a road sign acts as the quintessential metaphor. heavily sprayed with bullet holes, it reads: signs are for your own protection please don’t use them as targets. there is no control, the residents run amok, a law unto themselves. there is no god here, the pub is the church.

still in the gutter depravity there is gritty self-awareness & wisdom. in a town which is acknowledged as being great by the locals but has a problematic suicide rate which the tacher almost adds to in a failed self-administered gunshot to the head an a comfortable recognition exists between the last two men standing: the teacher and his rapist, the doc. the doc knows and accepts his plight. he references his mutually exploitive relationship with janette [sylvia kay] “we break the rules but we know more about ourselves than most people do”.

in "plato today" which is discarded previously roadside with a bunch of other books when the teacher abandons his load to hitchhike with one remaining suitcase, socrates’s student would probably argue that the device of civilisation serves ineffectively through democracy because the concept of freedom for the masses overlooks the few/misfits. the lowest common denominator is overshadowed. indeed a whole town like yabba. perhaps even an entire country...

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