Thursday, December 04, 2008
Do I really need to put a disclaimer here about spoilers? Surely you can work it out for yourself about reading this, or not reading this.
Last night, my sister and I went to see your film Australia. I thought you wouldn't mind me writing to you directly, hell, maybe you'd even welcome it. I imagine some people, when they are face-to-face with you, are sycophantically pussy-footing around the movie, saying how wonderful it is, epic, the new Gone with the Wind, etc. You have all your 'yes people' with you, and all the no-people seem to be writing reviews which are being published world-wide. It's a complete onslaught of "this is shit" pretty much, even Jim Schembri has written three reviews, that I've seen in the one publication. THREE. What's that all about?
There were too many. Look, I know you had to get every single fucking Australian actor into this movie. But Bryan Brown, David Wenham, Barry Otto, Jack Thompson, all in a matter of minutes, all scurrying around looking through binoculars and telescopes at the port? Bryan was wasted, David was much too much evil, Barry was ok, but it was hard to understand who he was and what his interests were, and Jack. He was ok. Barry seemed a neutral character, Bryan was a baddie, as was David. Jack was a heart-of-gold flawed accountant (point?), and by the time Ben Mendelsson appeared (as a rival for Lady Sarah's love? unclear) and John Jarrett as a very shouty army man, it was obvious to me that there were just too many people to keep track of. I've probably forgotten some of them. There were a small group of police officers (minor characters), Evil David Wenham's sidekicks (very minor). There was a bigoted bar-keeper. Some snotty wives, one nice wife (married to Evil David a bit later).
Then the main characters. They were all ok. Hugh (the Drover), ok. Nicole (Lady Sarak), ok, but too startled looking too often. Brandon the boy who played a central character, Nullah, the boy who has to hide anytime the coppers come, and who gets caught up in the central relationship between the Drover and Lady Sarah.
Baz, if you'd kept the focus on the main characters. Show us a bit more of their romance, increase the indigenous characters, let these characters show us a bit more of their stories, emphasise the stolen children issue a bit more, images of kids being taken away, Lady Sarah being told about these things, indigenous stories around the campfire etc. Show her falling in love with the countryside. There was a line somewhere, after she'd buried her husband, where she said something like I have no idea what my husband saw in this land. That was the moment when you should have picked up the reins, Baz, thinking ok, I'll show the world what there is to love about this country. It's unique beauty. And also great potential there to educate the world about the indigenous issues we have, and the shameful part of this country's history. Full marks for going there, but you didn't go there enough.
You should have had just the one evil character. An audience only needs one, can only cope with one. My pick would have been Bryan Brown. Get rid of Wenham. Brown can be more menacing that Wenham, and despite Brown being a walking ocker cliche, Wenham overacted. I know you like the overacting, the almost caricatured display of personality on-screen, but for me, it didn't work. You should have lost the accountant (Jack Thompson) and most of these minor, yet name, characters.
Baz, you got this bit right. I loved it in Romeo and Juliet and I loved it in this movie, and while I felt you could have lingered a little less on some of the scenery shots, some scenes were truly beautiful, in a magic-realism type way. I liked the way you developed the theme of magic, and mystery, with Nullah and his wonderfully-named grandfather King George (David Gulpilil) singing to each other, and King George always being present around his grandson, looking out for him from afar like some watchful stork, whether he be atop a mountain ridge or a water tower in Darwin. He was always there, always understanding and seeing what was about to happen.
Some early scenes in the billabong were gorgeous and so lushly spectacular; I loved those.
I was distracted by what I suspected were CGI-enhanced scenes. Yes, I know, I don't know what you would do about that either. But you're the expert. Make them seem less fake? I didn't go to film school, you tell me what you would do. Rewrite the scene so it doesn't need a fucking ravine for the cattle to be stampeding towards? There must be a way. But the bit where Nullah is on the edge, and stops the cattle, that was good. And it signalled the moment when Lady Sarah starts to invest emotionally in the boy.
Attention to detail - full marks, Baz, for costuming and the little details of life back then, including the decor of the homestead. I'm guessing that was all historically accurate, but if not, it was exquisite.
Christmas at the tree. I really dug that tree.
The music was good, especially the appearance of Old Rolf with his wobble board. But why oh why did you get Elton to write a song about Australia? Was there no Australian artist that could do it? Shame on you. I loved the insertion of Wizard of Oz references into the movie, that worked for me.
Um, if I were you I would have, like I said, make it just one villain, concentrate more on the droving journey, the relationship between Lady Sarah and the Drover and the boy (who incidentally needed to be shown mourning and/or missing his mother a little more). All the war stuff was ok, but the Nice Wife (of Evil David) could have been a little more developed, and a friendship between her and Lady Sarah needed to be fleshed out just a little. One exchange would have done it, before we saw them at work in their army khakis at the radio station. A little more fleshing out of the snobbishness of "society" directed at the Drover (he said he was as good as black in their eyes, I guess for living with the aborigines, having married an indigenous woman), a bit more of a relationship between the Drover and his stock-hand, also his brother-in-law who sacrifices himself to save a bunch of kids at the end.
On the acting, I think Nicole was actually better than Hugh. He was trying to be a sensitive new age guy, but also a Drover who lived life rough. It kind of didn't work. He cried, copiously, towards the end. I'm not sure how I feel about seeing a Drover cry. In a bar. While saying "give him a fucking drink!" But I wouldn't turn him down. Baz, I give you permission to pass on my url. David Gulpilil was fine, as always. Brandon Waters was mega.
Baz, sorry, but in my you have a cinema-goer who if not taken right into the movie, will sit on the edge and notice things. In this case, last night I was not swept away, I remained on the outside of the screen, and this is what I noticed:
1. I think Hugh's beard should have stayed on for the ball. He didn't look as spunky and he looked like he had eyeliner on. He did, didn't he?
2. You should have told Nicole to relax her eyes a bit. If she can. Just saying. And I know she's your muse, but if you're going to make another movie, you need a new muse. Like Woody Allen. He's moved on from Diane Keaton, to Scarlett Johansson. You also need to move on. I'll think about suggestions.
3. The "sex scene" (it really wasn't) between the Drover and Lady Sarah should have been fleshed out a bit more. Heh.
I know you've got the goods, for example where the hull was this:
Now I know for sure, I did not see this in the movie, there is no way I'd miss his hand on her arse. There was no upright action, I'm sure they shot straight to the horizontal. BORING. Plus I noticed a little bit of vein action on Nicole's left leg. Hello, ever heard of body make-up?
4. There was inconsistency in Nicole's face, from scene to scene. Maybe she was pregnant during that part, but in the middle somewhere, around the Ball scenes, her face looked so different, kind of saggy, a bit bloated, tired. Not the usual, taut skin. For me, it was quite obvious.
But kudos, Baz, for having one close-up where we could see she has pores like the rest of us:
5. David Wenham, in one scene, reprised his Diver Dan muttering. It was annoying and distracting. He did it twice.
Small things I noticed which were good:
1. The bit where Hugh is talking about his past "romantic life" while they are camping, just after his wet his torso and there's a moment when the camera slips down to his groin, his trousers are low-slung and his hand kind of goes there for a split second. It looks hairy and damp and you can see his groin lines. Mmmm.
2. The kissing was good. No, really. I liked it.
3. The little domestic tensions that started creeping in; he's a man, he's a drover, he wants to drove. He doesn't want to hang around the house all day. She's a woman, she's insecure, she wants her man around. They have a tiff. He storms off. For six months.
4. At the beginning, they are in the car going to Faraway Downs, her homestead. She is wearing the funniest goggle-type glasses. Good work Baz, and Nicole.
5. The humour works quite well. Nicole is reasonably good at humour, and she did it well, with her semi-hysterical little intakes of breath, snorts and gasps. Not bad.
6. There was no scene of Him washing Her hair in the outback. This is a good thing. Well done Baz for resisting that particular mistake. It's been done well once, you can't compete. Good man.
7. I read somewhere it took a lot of frigging about to get Hugh's clothes working. I have one word to say. Belt. As my sister said, he knows how to wear a belt. More mmmm.
Hugh channelling Clint near the iconic boab tree.
So that's maybe about it, Baz. Thanks for the movie. I did enjoy it. If you want to know whether I cried, I did. But not as much as my sister. Things that made me cry were Nullah and his grandfather. I cried at the end when Nicole, who is now attached to the boy in a motherly way (despite us knowing she considers herself a not very maternal person, and she physically can't have children) lets him go walkabout. Brandon Waters, as Nullah, is awesome. But I hope we don't see him again in another movie. Let this be his one time, and let him now have his childhood. There was something vulnerable in him that you didn't see in say a young Lindsay Lohan or Olsen twin.
I do commend you, Baz, for tackling the uncomfortable issue of race, and the history of racism in this country. Maybe it's this that is making people edgy about the movie, and feeling they have to slam it. I read somewhere a comment from an American who said "Wow, who knew the Aussies were so racist?"
We need to be able to confront our history, and our racist tendencies as human beings, and try to make amends, and try to find a way to all co-exist. To say sorry. This movie was timely, with what's happened in America with Barack Obama's election - he is mixed race, he knows about belonging, and not belonging. He has confronted, and hopefully will continue to confront, the ambiguities, uncertainties and discomfort of race and its relevance in the world. This movie was a wonderful vehicle to present these ideas to a mass audience; in that respect, I think you have succeeded Baz. But more work needs to be done. This could never be a one-shot panacea. Was this a Sorry Film, Baz? I suspect it was. If so, I respect that you've done it. Was this also an advertisement for Australia? If so, I think it has failed. Because other people from other countries maybe won't be able to see past the cliche and the humour, and find the heart of our country. Because I don't think the movie has much heart. I couldn't feel it, I couldn't hear it. It needed more heart, and whether that failed because of the cast, the plot, the direction, I couldn't say.
I wanted to be swept away, but I wasn't.
I wanted to be touched more, but I wasn't.
I wanted to see a big-hearted movie, from a man I have considered could not put a foot wrong, but I was disappointed. But I don't think the scathing reviews and general undercurrent of nastiness is warranted. It wasn't epic, it wasn't great, but it is ours and I liked it enough.