The Ausfather: Part I
We just had Australia day! Yay! Everyone had the day off work (except me, of course)! It hit 30 degrees at 4 in the afternoon. The barbecue was out in several backyards. Australians were eating meat pies, waving the union jack around, and relaxing! Munch, munch, mmmm!
It’s the day when half the country’s celebrating and the other half protests the celebration. Why? Well, a couple of hundred years ago white people arrived here and thought to themselves “yes, I think we’ll take this”. They then proceeded to flex their genocide muscles (which were well developed at this point) with the local “abodigitals”, and slowly turned the southern hemisphere as pale as a fresh pair of sneakers. Except…it turns out that a persecuted minority, much like an elephant, never forgets. Thus forth, we must uphold colonial traditions while simultaneously executing historical penance.
(For the record, I’m not comparing Aboriginal Australians to elephants, I’m merely injecting a childhood adage as a way to create levity.)
Whatever! I have no dog in this fight. I feel no more urge to celebrate Australia Day than I do to celebrate the 17th of May, the Norwegian national pride day.
However, since we’re busy thrashing around in a soup of guilt, let me share a confession of my own:
I moved to Australia six and a half years ago. My hope was to become a filmmaker or somehow make my way into the Australian film and entertainment industry. Every day I take an Australian train to an Australian university to learn about entertainment media from various Australian teachers. I sit in my Australian apartment, at my Australian desk, and do my Australian writing and drawing in the hot Australian night air. I go to Australian cinemas and eat Australian popcorn in a room full of fellow Australian movie-goers- and yet…
…I don’t watch Australian films!
Maybe not you specifically, Rose Byrne. But, then again, just because you’re in a movie doesn’t make it Australian. I’m talking about properly Aussie films. The ones made in Australia, with Australian money and Australian talent. They just…don’t matter to me.
Believe me when I say that I wish it wasn’t so. You have no idea how desperately I want to be digesting the nutrients of Australian movies. I want to absorb the culture through the lens. Goodness knows, I don’t feel connected to the country in most other way. I’m not someone who reads books or goes to concerts. I hate the nightlife in every country, and thus avoid it like the plague. Ain’t no bushwalker or rock climber either. Last, but not least, I’m most certainly not religious. I don’t see churches as umbilical cords to community…but the cinema? Now that’s a holy place! Talk about enlightenment and assimilation!
So why am I just watching everyone else’s movies? What’s wrong with the ones made right here? Well…if I’m to be brutally honest…they’re terrible!
Here’s me every time I’m forced to watch an Australian film:
That’s right, I look like a very bored sexiest man alive. My dreamy eyes glaze over. I twist my perfect jawline into a grimace. Jokes aside, it is something to be endured, not enjoyed.
I have my own feelings about why Aussie films, more often than not, are bilge. It’s because we focus so much on Australia! We love our own slang, our own food, our own sports, and we certainly love our very own red desert.
If there’s one thing Australia has a lot of, it’s nothing. Nothing but sand, nothing but dirt, nothing but wind, and apparently we’re proud of that.
I know what you’re thinking; “But…many of those are good films”. I agree that for a country with a limited backdrop and colour palette, we’ve managed to squeeze out many ingenious stories, but do we have to keep travelling to the outback? I can’t help feeling like that sponge has run dry. Every poster looks exactly the same, not to mention the films themselves! How can you expect to make any progress in an industry that actively shuns diversity?
Good films have good stories, period! It doesn’t matter where or when they take place, or how many marsupials are bouncing in the background. You should not start from your setting and work your way outwards. That’s like handcuffing a painter to a radiator and asking for a mural.
As for movies about Gallipoli and the maltreatment of native Australians…
(The opinions expressed in this GIF are Kate Winslet’s own and do not reflect the views of Cinema-Rant.)
Ok, that’s a bit intense. I don’t mean to imply that these stories aren’t worth telling, but come on- come on! British and French films aren’t inseparably married to the First World War, so why should ours be? Is every successful or award-winning American film about slavery, or The Civil War, World War II, Vietnam? Overwhelmingly, the answer is no. Don’t we have something worth contributing to world entertainment besides century-old instances of bloodshed? It’s such a depressing groove to be stuck in.
I realise that I sound like the furthest thing from a patriot at the moment (and for those who have experienced this particular rant of mine in person- a broken record), but isn’t a patriot someone who wants their nation to be better? I want Australia to be a place known for its crew, not just its cast. We pump out Oscar winning actors like it’s the better end of a dodgy political deal. Don’t try to tell me that we haven’t got the talent for original storytelling as well!
So with all that off my chest and ringing in your ears, I will now completely contradict everything I’ve just said.
Like an octopus in a jar, I’m going to contort myself and conform to the challenge around me. I will find, watch, and recommend three good Australian films. But wait! The hypocrisy goes deeper! The first film I’m recommending is set almost exclusively in the Australian outback.
I caught the last ten minutes of Welcome to Woop Woop on TV a month ago, and desperately yearned to watch the whole thing. I set out on an internet odyssey, eventually finding a crummy DVD-Rip that was stretched and poorly scanned. The colour correction, audio, and aspect ratios were all over the map…but it didn’t matter.
This movie is fucking unbelievable! It’s equally parts terrible, incomprehensible, disturbing, offensive, tantalising, hilarious, baffling, and brilliantly subversive. I feel like it’s the first Australian film that agrees with me. I don’t just mean that I like it, I literally mean that it agrees with me. The whole thing is like one big in-joke being played on Australian cinema…and you’re never really sure if you’re in on it or not. I’ll explain, but first- a plot synopsis…
“After a shady back ally deal ends in the death of two gangster rivals, an American bird smuggling con-artist (Teddy) must travel to the Australian outback and replace a rare breed of Bush Cockatoos. While there, he begins a sexual affair with an immature nymphomaniac hitchhiker, who then knocks him unconscious, “marries” him, and keeps him as her sex slave. When he awakens, Teddy finds himself in Woop Woop; an isolated town that doesn’t exist on any map, full of social outcasts.”
Upon hearing that synopsis, you might be tempted to think of similar movies like The Hills Have Eyes, Audition, or even the more recent Australian film The Loved Ones. Ok, look, I’m not going to try and pull the wool over your eyes. Welcome to Woop Woop is not a film that most of you will like. It merely struck a chord with me for the personal reasons I’ve just described. I’ll try to unpack it for you without spoiling it.
Woop Woop (an Australian slang term for “the middle of nowhere”) is presented to us as a microcosm of the worst of Australian culture. It’s full of racism, sexism, violence, fatty foods, animal cruelty, bewildering colloquialisms, and gutter humour. The fact that Teddy is an American is no accident, either. He represents other nationalities that see the Aussie tropes and go…
One of the most fascinating aspects of Woop Woop is the inhabitant’s obsession with musicals, particularly The Sound of Music. Regular as clockwork, the entire town sits and watches Rodgers and Hammerstein films (which they mispronounce as “Rodgerson Hammerstein”). A speaker system is set up that blasts tunes like “Climb Every Mountain” on a loop. One of the main characters even dresses in clothes made from yellow drapes.
This is so accurate it’s shocking.
Maybe it’s only my family, but there was a clear worshipping of The Sound of Music going on when I was growing up. Australians seem to be enamoured with artistic formality, presumably on account of our adoration of Britain, the motherland! We actually think of ourselves, on some level, as classy.
Australia can be a nation known for its class and fine taste (like France, Italy, and England), but not as long as we cloak ourselves in red dirt and leafless trees.
Little of what you see in Woop Woop bares any resemblance to my experiences while living in Australia. My friends and acquaintances here in Melbourne are sharp, capable, thoughtful people full of creativity, drive, style, and compassion. However, Woop Woop perfectly summarises what we put up on the silver screen. We present ourselves, through the arts, as a weirdly self-obsessive nation, romanticising our own grime and endlessly apologising for our history. Film crews drive for miles, until they’re a world away from a single living soul, and then roll the cameras- as if they’re now shooting the real Australia. If they ever do set their movies in the city (you know, the place where people actually live), scenes are conveniently shot in front of national monuments and tourist attractions, so that the government will hand over a nice fat grant. No wonder foreigners think of Australia as a shithole with a weird-looking opera house on one end.
The more I watch Welcome to Woop Woop, the more insightful it becomes. Cultural criticism is not the only thing it has to offer, though. There are plenty of good jokes, some of which are hidden in the background and wedged behind thick layer of innuendo. Smutty “wink-wink” puns rise to the surface from the most bizarre locations. Take this one for example, one of the best jokes I’ve seen in a movie ever:
Only Australians can take something as lovingly assembled as The Sound of Music and reduce it to…that. There’s your national pride! Stick that in your didgeridoo and smoke it!
(That was in no way meant to ridicule the didgeridoo, nor imply that it’s an illegitimate instrument.)
Woop Woop is not a movie to watch with your parents…or with your brain. It’s something that connect to you on primal level. It touches that part of your soul that cringes when you hear your own voice being played back to you on cassette. It’s the sound of your ancestors, the proud warriors of an ancient noble empire, saying “…seriously, dude?”. It’s perfect for Australia day! Have a good one, boofheads!