“It’s a Jungle out there” – Analysis of the Representations of Crime and Criminal Milieu in Underbelly (2008)

1 Jun

ARTS2062: RESEARCH ESSAY: 30%

Q: ANALYSE THE REPRESENTATION OF CRIME AND THE CRIMINAL MILIEU IN ANY EPISODE OF UNDERBELLY (2008-2010)

 

Episode Chosen: Season 1, Episode 1 –

The Black Prince (director: Tony Tilse); aired February 13th, 2008.

________ 

The Australian television industry, since it started making locally produced dramas in the 1960s (Kennedy and Kennedy, 1989, p. 2), has paved the way for television in Australia to be a visual medium that produces icons and pictures of people and groups from reality. These representations are essentially designed to present ideas about people and groups, reinforcing what the audience already knew and thought or changing the audience’s perception completely (Burton, 2000, p. 23, p. 171). The following essay will analyse the representations of crime and the criminal milieu present in one episode of Australia’s hit true crime drama, Underbelly (Screentime, Nine Network, 2008), that depicts a dramatized version of Melbourne’s gangland war from 1995 to 2004. The chosen episode, entitled The Black Prince (Tony Tilse, 2008), is episode one of the first Underbelly television mini-series. It is a perfect example to analyse as it is an introductory episode that sets up much of the narrative and setting surrounding crime and criminal milieu. This response will also provide a background to and exploration of the notion of “representation” in Australian television and will provide a context on Underbelly as a television mini-series, before presenting and analyzing the representation(s) of crime and the criminal environment in the selected episode.

Australia, as a nation built by convicts and criminals, has, for a long time, generated and fostered public interest in and fascination with the criminal world (Murray, 2007, p.187). According to Robyn Lincoln and Shirleene Robinson (2010), in “contemporary Australia, the fascination with criminal activity shows no signs of abating. Television programs, such as Underbelly, which focus on notorious criminal figures, attain top ratings” (p. ix). Thus, it is important to analyse how Australian television programs represent crime and the criminal environment. But first, a background to and exploration of the notion of “representation” in Australian television programming is required. The following paragraphs will also note how conventions of the true crime drama genre, under which Underbelly falls, often inform representations of crime and the criminal milieu in Australian television programming. It is through these conventions that audiences create expectations of and meanings in true crime drama programs.

The term “representation”, in the context of Australian television programming, refers broadly to the depiction of social groups and institutions. Underbelly, depicts (family-man) criminals as the social group and the local law enforcement (the police) as the institution. Television programs essentially represent ideas about the nature of a certain topic associated with a certain social group (i.e. the nature of crime associated with criminals), displaying how an audience is meant to understand them (Burton, 2000, p. 170-71). These representations often mix with the audience’s preconceived perceptions and judgements of a topic associated with a certain social group. Ultimately, television programs, layered with meanings, re-present and communicate to the audience a constructed view of crime, criminals and the criminal setting (McMahon and Quin, 1990, p. 123). Graeme Burton (2000) suggests that “the way that television is used that causes the audience to construct meanings [is] the essence of representation” (p. 24). It is thus about using television, as a visual medium, to create signs and icons from which the audience can make meaning.

Representation is also about appearance and description and often has to do with stereotypes (but is not defined by them). This leads to the exploration of the conventions of the true crime drama genre, which often inform representations of crime and the criminal setting. The true crime drama genre, as a sub-genre of “crime”, centers around the sinister actions of criminals who “operate outside the law, stealing and violently murdering their way through life” (Dirks, FilmSite).True crime drama’s clearly, from the genre label, express a dramatized version of criminal events that have occurred in reality. They often highlight and tell stories of the lives and the criminal exploits of well-known, real-life crime figures and/or gangs. The following paragraphs will detail the conventional characters, narratives and settings common to the crime genre and the true crime drama sub-genre.

Edgar Allan Poe, the early nineteenth century American horror and crime writer, pointed out that there are three archetypal ‘crime genre’ figures; The Criminal, The Detective and The Victim; and the connection between these three are integral to stories of crime mystery. This model became known as “Poe’s Triangle” as the three characters stood in a triangular relationship with each other (Moran and Vieth, 2006, p. 73). The often stereotyped characters of the criminal, the detective and the victim must be present, in any shape or form, as they are essential archetypal characters of the crime genre. The relationship between these characters often helps inform representations of individual characters from a specific social group. To clarify, for example, in television crime programs, representations of the criminal are partially determined by the criminal’s relationship with the detective(s) (or the police in general) and the victim(s). In other words, how the criminal is represented is partially influenced and determined by the perspectives of the detective(s) and/or the victim(s). 

Conventions of the crime genre have also created expectations among audiences about the narrative and type(s) of crime(s) being committed and represented. These expectations have seemingly changed overtime as the genre’s conventions (and real-life criminal events) have developed.  In earlier Australian crime films and television programs there was a focus on types of crimes, such a shoplifting, that were deemed petty and manageable. There was a notion that crime could be controlled (Burton, 2000, p. 204). But as Australian film and television programming developed, conventions of crime became truer to experience. Crime was no longer controllable, but was violent, exciting and destructive (Burton, 2000, p. 204). Crimes against the person, especially in the forms of wounding or killing, became an integral element of the crime genre, informing the types of crime being represented on screen (Moran and Vieth, 2006, p. 78). Many and most criminal activity depicted in contemporary Australian crime drama films and television programs involve some sort of violence. It is now expected.

The setting, or criminal milieu, present in crime films and television programs also adheres to conventions of the crime genre. Certain types of settings become synonymous with the criminal milieu. Albert Moran and Errol Vieth (2006) sum up well the common setting in Australian true crime drama television programs;

the mean streets of the criminal world [that is often] populated by thugs and standover criminals, drugs pushers and addicts, prostitutes and pimps, bent police, unsavoury club owners, ex-convicts and others […] only really springs to life at night, in such locations as King’s Cross, Bondi and St Kilda where casinos…pubs, clubs and brothels become synonymous with the criminal world” (p. 81).

The criminal world, in true crime dramas, is often interchanged with the world of suburban family life. Suburban locations, languages and values are also represented to portray the reality of the world in which real-life criminal figures live. Many are family men during daylight, but criminals at night, so to speak. They live two lives, which they try to keep separate but inevitably cross over eventually.

Now that the notion of “representation” has been explored and the conventions and expectations of the true crime drama subgenre have been established, this essay will proceed to note the context of the Underbelly mini-series. Underbelly, a 13-part Australian docudrama television mini-series based on the book Leadbelly: Inside Australia’s Underworld, by The Age journalists John Silvester and Andrew Rule, compellingly dramatises one of the “bloodiest crime battles in Australian history” (Australian Television Website). The series, which can be also categorized under the true crime drama genre, retells the real events of the 1995 to 2004 gangland war in Melbourne between, among others, the rising career criminal Carl Williams (Gyton Grantley); who sought to be the king of Melbourne’s underworld; and the Carlton Crew; made up of the Moran crime family, Alphonse Gangitano (Vince Colosimo), Mick Gatto (Simon Westaway), Graham “The Munster” Kinniburgh (Gerard Kennedy) and Mario Rocco Condello (Martin Sacks) (ibid). Underbelly has received much praise for its realistic portrayal of crime and the criminal milieu present in Melbourne’s gangland war, winning seven Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards in 2008 for its first season (Matthews, ASO). David Knox (2008) has called the series “our own Sopranos”.

The rest of the response will present and analyse the representations of crime and the criminal milieu in the first ever Underbelly (2008) episode, entitled The Black Prince (Tony Tilse, 2008, S1E01). It aired on February 13th, 2008, winning the television ratings war by attracting an average of 1.32 million viewers across Australia (Ziffer, 2008). The Black Prince, as the first episode in the series, is, of course, introductory. Its main objective is to introduce the key players and set the tone for the mayhem that will follow in Melbourne’s gangland war. The episode centers on the actions of Carlton Crew member, gangster Alphonse Gangitano, the self-professed “Black Prince of Lygon Street”, who kills low-threat criminal, Greg Workman (Lliam Amor) at a 1995 St Kilda party. Gangitano killed Workman, not for the money Workman owed him, but for the principle of owing him money, suggesting “it was a matter of honour”, showing how little respect he has for human life. Gangitano is arrested for the murder of Greg Workman but is let off after encouraging (threatening and bribing) two witnesses not to testify.  This murder triggers a chain reaction that begins Melbourne’s gangland war that stretched into the twenty-first century, and would see almost thirty people murdered.

Underbelly’s representations of the real-life crime figures and the crimes they commit are based on fact. Since Melbourne’s gangland war was well-publicised, many audience members would already have knowledge on these crime figures and their criminal exploits.  The first criminal figures the audience is introduced to in The Black Prince are Alphonse Gangitano and Jason Moran (Les Hill) as they exit a taxi and enter a St Kilda Party. Moran and Gangitano especially are well dressed, and project a shady appearance by wearing dark sunglasses (at night), heavy coats, smoking cigarettes and having guns strapped to their backs. Gangitano is really the focus of this episode and is represented as egotistical, slightly self-destructive and violent. He is driven by power and pride, and perhaps embodies the expectation that criminals think they’re the best or better than others. He clearly has a high amount of self-importance in this episode asking Senior Constable Steve Owen (Roger Corser) early in the episode, “Do you know who you’re talking to?”, before walking over the bonnet of a police car later in the episode. This instance also shows how criminals have little respect for the law and those who enforce it.

Gangitano also fulfills the audience expectation that crime is and those who commit it are violent. He violently beats Greg Workman before emptying a whole magazine into him. His indifference in killing Workman shows how little respect he has for human life.His violent nature is shown again later in the episode when he and Jason Moran trash a sports bar owned by a man who owes Gangitano twenty thousand dollars. The pair destroys parts of the premises and attack patrons indifferently. The representation of crime as a violent caper is exemplified when the sequence cuts between shots of Gangitano and Moran excessively assaulting seemingly innocent patrons of the sports bar and shots of these same patrons in the back of ambulances with blood running down their faces.

Other well-known criminals and their associates in the episode are also represented in traditional crime genre fashion. The Cartlon Crew, who hold meetings in a grandstand at the Cartlon Football Club oval, is also portrayed wearing suits, dark sunglasses, and smoking cigarettes. Although, in this episode, majority of them are not seen in any criminal dealings, their shady appearance and behaviour seems to suggest otherwise.

These criminals, however, are also represented as family men, who have wives and children in suburbia. Returning home, after killing Greg Workman, Gangitano checks on his sleeping children before laying down to sleep next to his wife. There is a similar situation with Jason Moran who is shown the day after the murder in the context of his family home; with his wife and children, and his brother Mark Moran (Callan Mulvey). This is characteristic of the true crime drama genre. The way Gangitano and Jason Moran in this episode are represented; as dangerous, but also as family men; in a sense normalizes their crime (Matthews, ASO), and shows a variety of the traditional criminal milieu, that usually centers on the seedy city streets. Underbelly is a cross between suburbia and the streets of the criminal world. The suburban scenes in The Black Prince only occur during daylight hours, while locations traditionally associated with criminal behaviour, such as the St Kilda Party, are shown at night. It is as Moran and Vieth (2006) suggested; “the criminal world…only really springs to life at night” (p.81).

Later on in the episode, as previously mentioned, the audience is taken to a location synonymous with the criminal world, a sports bar, where Gangitano and Jason Moran indifferently attack patrons and destroy part of the premises. This scene reinforces the traditional crime setting and the violent nature of criminals expected in crime genres.

The illustrations of Gangitano and the rest of the Carlton Crew in The Black Prince suggest to the audience that criminal undertakings are usually performed in pairs and with the support of a criminal gang or crew. In this criminal environment, members of the crew protect and cover other members. It is much harder to crack a gang of violent criminals, than an individual criminal.

The representations of crime and the criminal milieu illustrated in the Underbelly episode, The Black Prince, are influenced by the point of views of other characters integral to crime drama. Using the model of Poe’s Triangle, viewpoints of The Detective and The Victim, often inform how and in what way crime and the criminal milieu is communicated to an audience. According to Kate Matthews, writer for the Australian Screen Online (ASO), Underbelly is seen as from the point of view of police characters, such as Detective Jacqui James (Caroline Craig) who narrates the story retrospectively. As a Constable, James and fellow officer Senior Constable Owen, witness the violence Alphonse Gangitano can produce. This can also be said of the victims’ perspective. The sisters who witness Gangitano kill Greg Workman and the sports bar patrons who are physically abused, allows the audience to witness and make judgements on the violent nature of crime in twentieth/twenty-first century Australia. This again, impacts on the way the key criminals are represented in The Black Prince and throughout the series.

To conclude, the above analysis has shown that representations of crime and the criminal milieu in the first episode of Underbelly, The Black Prince, inform and produce meaning within audiences. These representations, whether entirely intentionally or not, fulfill the conventions of the crime genre and true crime drama subgenre. Although the Underbelly mini-series has been praised for its sense of realism, one must question whether these representations are true or are stereotyped for dramatic appeal, to fulfill audience expectations? Nonetheless, the Australian public’s interest in and fascination with true crime, according to Tom Noble (2010), “is far from over”. True crime dramas, such as Underbelly, will continue to fuel the public’s perception and understanding of crime and the criminal milieu.

Word Count: 2, 498

By: Megan Walford, z3291268

ARTS2062

References:

Australian Television Information Archive [Website], “Underbelly”, no date, anonymous, <http://www.australiantelevision.net/underbelly/index.html&gt;, Accessed 25th May 2011

Burton, G 2000, Talking Television: An introduction to the study of television, Arnold Publishers, Great Britain and Oxford University Press Inc., New York.

Dirks, T no date, “Crime and Gangster Films”, FilmSite [website], <http://www.filmsite.org/crimefilms.html>  Accessed 27th May 2011

Kennedy, B and Kennedy, B 1989, Film and Television in Australia, Longman Cheshire Pty, Limited, Melbourne.

Knox, D 2008, “First Review: Underbelly”, TV Tonight [Website], January 17th 2008, <http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2008/01/first-review-underbelly.html&gt;, Accessed 28th May 2011

Matthews, K no date, “Underbelly: Curator’s Notes”, Australian Screen Online (ASO), <http://aso.gov.au/titles/tv/underbelly-series-1/notes/&gt; , Accessed 26th May 2011

McMahon, B and Quin, R 1990, Australian Images, Science Press, Marrickville (NSW).

Moran, A and Vieth, E 2006, Film in Australia: An introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Murray, G 2007, “Chopper”, in Geoff Mayer and Keith Beattie (eds.), The Cinema of Australia and New Zealand, Wallflower Press, London, p. 185-194

Noble, T 2010, “Why We Love True Crime”, The Weekly Review [Online], 27th May 2010, <http://www.theweeklyreview.com.au/well-read-article-display/Why-We-Love-True-Crime/2899&gt; , Accessed 27th May 2011

Ziffer, D 2008, “Underbelly wins ratings war”, The Age [Online], 14th February 2008, <http://www.theage.com.au/news/tv–radio/controversial-underbelly-tops-ratings/2008/02/14/1202760445201.html&gt; Accessed 27th May 2011

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The Internet Movie Database <http://www.imdb.com&gt; was used for cast member names; “Underbelly”, <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1119176/&gt; , Accessed 30th May 2011.

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Television-ography:

Underbelly (Screentime, Nine Network, 2008-);

Season 1, Episode 1; The Black Prince (Tony Tilse, 2008)

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INFORMATION:

 

Produced by Screentime

Executive Producers: Des Monaghan, Jo Horsburgh
Producers: Greg Haddrick, Brenda Pam
Title theme and original music by: Burkhard Dallwitz

Airing: 2007… (Nine)

Underbelly, the true story of one of the bloodiest crime battles in Australian history, follows the rise and fall of notorious career criminal Carl Williams who sought to be king of Melbourne’s underworld. The series, based on the factual book Leadbelly by John Silvester and Andrew Rule, is the compelling dramatisation of Melbourne’s infamous gangland killings that started in 1998 with the murder of Alphonse Gangitano.

<http://www.australiantelevision.net/underbelly/index.html&gt;

“You Chick’s Are Bent!” – A Definitive Sequence in ‘Puberty Blues’

18 May

Sequence Analysis:

 Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981):  1:16:48 – 1:20:56 (Final Chapter of the Film)

Sequence being analysed can be seen in the above video ~ 4:06 – 8:16

Puberty Blues (Beresford, 1981), based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, tells a coming-of-age story of two teenage girls, Debbie (Nell Schofield) and Sue (Jad Capelja), as they attempt to improve their social status by integrating themselves with the Greenhills Surfie Gang and navigate their way through adolescence in 1970s Cronulla, Sydney. In Bruce Beresford’s words, “It was a sort of insight into the way of life of those kids” (Beresford, 2001). The film depicts life in the Australian surf culture of the early 1970s as being frequently less than fulfilling for girls (Speed, 2004a, p. 57). There is an emphasis on stereotypical gender roles and surf culture rituals with female characters continuously being subjected to sexist stereotyping, limiting their roles to ‘top chick’, ‘moll’ and ‘dickhead’. The kitsch appeal of the film’s mise-en-scene has become a significant attraction, given the currency of 1980s revivalism in popular culture (Speed, 2004b, p.168).

At the end of the film Debbie and Sue discover themselves through their experiences and will no longer do what is expected of them. They break from practices of conformity and defy traditional customs of surfing subculture by purchasing a surfboard and surfing in front of the Greenhills surfie gang. The final sequence which depicts the girls triumph at surfing, and the changing attitudes of the Greenhills gang, is the one I have chosen to analyse. Some commentators have labeled this sequence as “the defining moment in the film” (Capp, 2011). The following response will provide a shot-by-shot analysis of filmic techniques, describing how meaning is produced in this pivotal sequence.  

The sequence fades in to an establishing long shot of a bright sunny day on a beach-front street in Cronulla, Sydney. The camera follows the two protagonists Debbie and Sue, at eye-level as they exit a surf shop carrying their newly purchased surfboard and cross the road to Cronulla Beach. This shot sets up the girls’ ultimate act of rebellion, yet still, at this point in the sequence, reinforces the gender stereotypes and norms of the urban surf sub-culture that dominate the film. Debbie and Sue jointly carry the board (a surfer would carry the board by themselves) and are bombarded with several verbal slurs from passing surfers (“You’re kidding, chick’s surfing?”) as they look to enter into the male domain of surfing. The girls have had enough of conforming to gender stereotypes (“it stinks”).

Shot 2 continues the reinforcement of the surfing culture hegemony and stereotypes. A long shot continues to track Debbie and Sue as they now walk along Cronulla beach with their new surfboard. In the unfocused background you can see surfers and male swimmers giving the girls odd looks, while in the focused foreground a group of girl’s stereotypically sunbaking on the sand comment on the oddity of the situation (“Cop these Chicks”). As the camera pans, following the girls, other surfers enter the foreground and continue the hostile taunts.

In shot 9 Beresford introduces a series of shot-reverse-shot, beginning with the Greenhills surfie gang in a low angle long shot, before cutting to a low angle long shot of Debbie and Sue leaving their belongings on the beach and getting ready to surf. The following shots continuously cut between the Greenhills gang and Debbie and Sue as they exchange verbal banter (“Chick’s don’t surf” – “Just you wait!”).

At first the protagonists fail at their act of rebellion. Sue, in shot 20, attempts to paddle out, slipping off the board numerous times, laughing at she does. In the ensuing shots, medium close ups of the Greenhills gang members, male and female, shows how ridiculous they think girls surfing is, laughing at Sue’s hopelessness on the surfboard.

A medium close up shot of two male Greenhills gang members as they approach the water for a better look in shot 25 is the beginning of a change in attitude. Although through their verbal slurs of “You are bent!”, they are reinforcing their dominance in surfing culture, their separation from the group, which can be seen out of focus in the background, is a sign that something is changing. In the next shot however, the two have returned to the gang.

Probably the most important scenes in the sequence begin with shot 28 when the first non-diegetic sound is introduced in the form of Split Enz “Nobody takes me seriously”. This song has powerful lyrics and accompanies just under two minutes of Debbie’s progress in surfing. Throughout Debbie’s attempts, the camera uses powerful reverse shots to cut back to medium close up shots of individual Greenhills gang members, monitoring their reaction. When Debbie first tries to catch a wave, medium close up shots of gang members reveal their embarrassment through their expressions, dialogue and laughter (“How embarrassing”). However, their opinions soon change.  

Rose Capp (2011) sums up the Greenshills gang’s shift in attitudes quite well; “The boys’ hostile incredulity turns to grudging admiration while the girls shift rapidly from mortification…to bemusement and finally, a distinct distaff pride in Debbie’s success.” These changing attitudes are exemplified in their changing facial expressions.

After numerous attempts, Debbie finally manages to stand up on the surfboard and ride her first wave in shot 30. As the camera peds down from her face to her feet on the surfboard in a medium shot, the grin of Debbie’s face is priceless. The changing facial expressions of the gang members are also priceless. As Capp (2011) describes it the “female empowerment registered in the dawning comprehension on the faces of Debbie’s fellow surfie chicks is what makes this such a literally liberating moment.” The female gang members are at first mortified, then embarrassed, then curious and finally proud.

In shot 32, an eye-level long shot captures Debbie surfing the same wave as a male surfer, symbolizing her new found equality and independence from the constraints of the Greenhills surfie gang. The final shot in the sequence shows Debbie and Sue leaving the beach, with Debbie carrying the surfboard like other surfers do (in comparison to their joint carrying in shot 1), symbolising her defiance of conformity. As the sun sets behind the two protagonists, so does the traditions and contraints of male-dominated surfie subculture.

The sequence analysed above is key to the film Puberty Blues as it shows Debbie and Sue’s defiance of and independence from the male-dominated youth counter-culture of surfing. It also importantly shows a shift in the members of the Greenhills surfie gang’s attitudes to female’s right and ability to surf.

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By: Megan Walford, z3291268

Word Count: 991

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References:

Beresford, B., 2001 [interview], in Malone, P., (eds.), Myth and Meaning: Australian Film directors in their own words, Currency Press, Strawberry Hills (NSW).

Capp, R., 2011, “Chick’s Don’t Surf: Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981)”, in Senses of Cinema, issue 58 [online] <http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2011/58/chicks-don’t-surf-puberty-blues-bruce-beresford-1981/> Accessed 29th April 2011

Speed, L., 2004a, “You and Me Against the World: Revisting Puberty Blues”, in Metro Magazine: Media and Education Magazine, no. 140, 2004: p.54-59.

Speed, L., 2004b, “Puberty Blues [Book Review]”, in Metro Magazine: Media and Education Magazine, no. 144, Feb 2004: 168-169.

 

Filmography:

Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981).

 (NOTE: Although not strictly important, screen caps of the movie will soon be incoporated into this blog post. At the time of posting my computer, unfortunately, was experiencing technical difficulties 😐 But we shall keep calm and carry on !)

Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981) Trailer

Australian’s at War; ‘Kokoda’ and ‘Beneath Hill 60’

18 May

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS:

“You’re not even real soldiers are you?” – Conventions of the [Australia] War Film Genre

                      

According to Albert Moran and Errol Vieth (2006), the French term ‘genre’ is used in the English language ‘as an immediate way to designate a film kind or type’ (p.1). Each genre then has specific conventions which make it unique and recognisable, including narrative structure, content, settings, themes, period, and characterisations (RNS Blogspot, 2008). This creates expectations among audiences (McMahon and Quin:1990, p.35). The following response will compare two recent Australia Films that fall under the genre of ‘War’; Kokoda (Grierson, 2006) and Beneath Hill 60 (Sims, 2010). I have chosen to compare and analyse; one, how these two films fulfil the expectations of a war film through the genre’s identifiable narrative structure and two, how each film represents Australianness and promotes qualities that define an Australian national identity through characterisation(s).

Kokoda and Beneath Hill 60 are two of Australia’s more recent war films that make up only a handful of Australian war films ever made. This is surprising considering Australia’s history is rich with military engagements, crucial battles and legendary wartime characters (Williams, 2010). Both Kokoda and Beneath Hill 60 are dramatisations of real war situations and incidents of Australian participation in each of the World Wars.

War films are concerned with warfare, are usually about naval, air or land battles, and can be fiction or based on true events. Moran and Vieth (2006) identify war films as a well-defined subgenre of the action-adventure genre (p.17).  They note the following as an identifiable plot structure of the war film subgenre;

“…the survival narrative, focuses on a small band in an extreme situation of distress and danger…To escape from this peril and to reach safety, the group must embark on a journey that is also an ordeal of endurance, suffering and courage…the journey and the task thrown up many different challenges and dangers and very often members of the ensemble are struck down and fail to survive.” (Moran and Vieth, 2006, p.17).

Kokoda is based on the bitter battle fought between Australian and Japanese soldiers on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea in World War II. Under dire conditions and against the odds, the courage, strength and sacrifice of Australian soldiers on the Kokoda Track inevitably stopped the approaching Japanese army invading Australia. The film centres on a fictional patrol of Australian volunteer soldiers who become lost and get cut off from the Kokoda Track. This group must journey to regroup with fellow soldiers whilst battling with the Track’s infamous conditions; rugged and isolated terrain, humid days and tropical diseases; a seemingly strong and invisible enemy and malfunctioning equipment. The Australian soldiers are challenged both physically and mentally by what they have to endure and witness. It then becomes a film of survival, focusing on the soldiers as individuals and as a group, rather than the war itself. While many of the group are killed during their journey, three survive against the odds, through pure luck, strength, courage, sacrifice and mateship.  

Beneath Hill 60 tells the little-known true story of the 1st Australian mining battalion, a group of civilian miners from around Australia sent to the Western Front to dig under enemy lines in World War I. The miners, who are barely trained as soldiers and poorly equipped with scant regard for military etiquette, struggle through adversity and the horrors of war. They are challenged mentally and physically when it becomes their duty to dig and defend a leaking maze of interweaving tunnels, deep beneath German lines on the Messines Ridge in Belgium, packed with enough high explosives to break the German stronghold at Hill 60. They are constantly in dangerous situations when underground, digging through wet sand and blue clay with little resources to strengthen mine walls, experiencing cave-ins and low levels of oxygen, and are at continual threat from German tunnelers. Although a forgotten episode in Australia’s military history, the battle at Messines Ridge was one of the most successful in the Allied Campaign. Nonetheless, there are significant human causalities and loss to the mining battalion.

Although Kokoda and Beneath Hill 60 differ in situation and context, they are films that centre on Australians at war with a specific focus on the physical and mental impact of war. Due to this focus, both films present a strong human resonance. Soldiers are removed from combat in a sense through dialogue, letters from home and visual flashbacks of home life (FilmReferenceWebsite), allowing the audience to get to know the soldiers as fellow human beings. They become someone’s husband, father, son or brother. Aussie humour and larrikinism also breaks the tension of narrative in both films. We see ideal ‘Australian’ themes and qualities embodied by characters emerge under fire and in dire conditions through this focus on humanisation.

Themes that are common to Australian films include mateship, endurance, sacrifice, camaraderie, courage, the underdog and a healthy anti-authoritarianism. These qualities, common to the Anzac Myth, have come to define an Australian national identity. In this sense, Kokoda and Beneath Hill 60 promote and celebrate Australianness through their characters.

The [Australian] war film genre produces archetypal characters that are present in both films. These include; the often hated [British] authority figure (K: AIF Lieutenant, BH60: Lieutenant Robert Clayton [Leon Ford]), the young and naïve soldier (Johnno [Tom Budge], Frank Tiffin [Harrison Gilbertson]), the not-so-confident but eventually respected leader (Jack Scholt [Jack Finsterer], Captain Oliver Woodward [Brendan Cowell]), the blood-related soldiers (Brothers; Jack & Max Scholt [Simon Stone], Father & Son [Alan Dukes & Alex Thompson]) and the ‘sacrificer’ (Bluey [Christopher Baker], Streaky [Mark Coles Smith]). These characters all, except the [often British] authority figure, embody Australian qualities that celebrate what it means to be Australia. Mateship in both films ultimately drives the courage and endurance of characters, allowing some to survive the atrocities of war.

Therefore, it can be concluded from the comparison and analysis above that Australia War Films, such as Kokoda (Grierson, 2006) and Beneath Hill 60 (Sims, 2010), fulfil the conventions of the war film genre. Both films focus on the mental and physical impact of war on soldiers, with narrative structure, content, characterisation and representation of ‘Australianness’ common to both films discussed.

By: Megan Walford, z3291268

Word Count; 998

References:

Anon., ‘Defining the War Film’, Film Reference (Website), <http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Romantic-Comedy-Yugoslavia/War-Films-DEFINING-THE-WAR-FILM.html> Accessed 11 May 2011

McMahon, B and Quin, R 1990, Australian Images, Science Press, Marrickville (NSW).

Moran, A., and Vieth, E., 2006, Film in Australia: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

RNS (BlogAuthor), 2008, ‘Understanding Film Genre’, in Understanding Media (Blog), 6 Oct 2008, <http://mediaelectron.blogspot.com/2008/10/understanding-film-genre.html> Accessed 9 May 2011

Williams, E., 2010, ‘Beneath Hill 60: Deep and Meaningful’, The Australian (Online), April 17, 2010 <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/evan-williams-beneath-hill-60-deep-and-meaningful/story-e6frg8pf-1225853604303> Accessed 11 May 2011

Filmography (See Trailers below):

Kokoda, (Alister Grierson, 2006)

Beneath Hill 60, (Jeremy Sims, 2010)

Kokoda (Alister Grierson, 2006)

Beneath Hill 60 (Jeremy Sims, 2010)

FUN FACT!: Australia Actor, Steve Le Marquand, is in both Kokoda (‘Sam’) and Beneath Hill 60 (Sergeant Bill Fraser) !!

Where are the Aussie Films at?

21 Apr

I know this may seem obvious to some, but I’ve only just realised how poorly video rental stores and dvd retailers are at stocking good ol’ Aussie films. When I tried to rent some Australian movies at Network Video yesterday they were scattered around the store – not Australian Cinema section – and most had been not returned (presumed stolen) and not replaced. I find this disappointing.

Also yesterday I went into JB Hi-Fi looking for Japanese Story to buy. I found, after asking a staff member, an Australian (and New Zealand) cinema section, stuck at the end of the World Cinema Section. It was waaaaaay below my eye-level and difficult to find as it was such a small section. However, I’m pleased Aussie Films have a section at all. Nonetheless, the range of titles in this section were lacking; they had the classics; Strictly Ballroom, Priscillia – Queen of the Desert, and Gallipoli of course – but not a very big supply. Of course i understand that you can simply order in many Aussie Film titles through a stores website or instore; but that’s not the point. Aussie films aren’t given enough shelf space anyway. The section i saw in JB Hi-Fi barely took up a 1/5 of one shelf. Just disappointing.

Highlight of the day though was JB Hi-Fi actually had Japanese Story in stock, so i got to buy it and plan on watching it after uni 🙂 yay! It ties in well with my presentation topic for Week 10: SBS, Austral/asia, Multiculturalism.

(note: nothing has been linked in this post, sorry, imdb was being a bugger and not loading “internet explorer cannot display your webpage” crap)

This is Australia: Gallipoli (Weir, 1981) and Nationalism

31 Mar

        (Source)                                 (Source)

CONCEPT ANALYSIS: Nationalism and Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981)

The following is a concept analysis of nationalism, designed to define this idea in the context of Australian national identity and analyse its representation and projection in the Australian film, Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981).

Gallipoli is a compelling fictional story of friendship and adventure between two Australian soldiers, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), travelling from the Western Australian outback to the deserts of Egypt to Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. Michael Bodey (in Hocking(eds.), 2006), as well as other film critics and historians, believe that ‘Gallipoli is a truly grand Australian film. A searing national character study[…]’ (p.104).

Gallipoli embodies and projects Australian nationalism by ‘offer[ing] [a] re-enactment of events already invested with national significance’ (Raynor,2000, p.110). All Australians know of Gallipoli and the ANZAC myth/legend. The film celebrates Australia’s essential culture, qualities and values as embodied by the battle of Gallipoli and the consequent ANZAC myth/legend.

What is meant by (Australian) Nationalism? Anthony D. Smith (2001) outlines his five meanings of nationalism as follows:

  1. The process of formation, or growth, of nations
  2. A sentiment or consciousness of belonging to the nation
  3. A language and symbolism of the nation
  4. The social and political movement on behalf of the nation
  5. The doctrine and/or ideology of nation, both general and particular (p.7)

As Smith’s definitions clearly show, there are different meanings of nationalism that tend to overlap and reveal common themes. The main theme is an overriding concern with the nation. Nationalism seeks to achieve national autonomy, national unity and national identity (Smith,2001, p.9).

Every nation’s defining features are different. Australia’s idea of nationalism is centred on a post-British, unified country, and how we define ourselves in terms of unique and valued qualities. The motif of the harsh outback and landscape is also key to our national identity, as is our desire to distance ourselves from Britain and reassess (and sometimes rewrite) our history (Freebury,1987, p.43).

The battle of Gallipoli, as Jane Freebury writes, was ‘an episode in Australia’s history which has become associated with the birth of nationhood’ (1987, p.44). This true unification of the Australian nation, fourteen years after Federation in 1901, is the focus of Weir’s film. However, Gallipoli is not essentially about or centred on war. The majority of the film, in fact, follows Archy and Frank through Western Australia and Egypt. But this is done purposefully. Weir uses an extended period of time to construct the kind of valued Australian character found in ANZAC soldiers.

Gallipoli then is focused on the quality of the men who fought and died, celebrating ultimately national ideology. The film largely centred on what is intrinsically Australian – for example; mateship, endurance, the battler image, anti-authoritarian, anti-British, the outback, competitive spirit, courage, selflessness and a ‘nationalistic belief in an as yet unrealised potential’ (Freebury,1987, p.45).

Weir’s focus then is on dramatising and examining elements popularly associated with national character (McFarlane in Murray(eds.), 1993, p.74) through cinematic techniques, visual symbolism and narrative devices. He portrays the spirit of Australia through the lives of two typical Australians; Archy the bushman, and Frank, the urban larrikin. The characterisation of these protagonists is exceptional and allows them to both symbolically embody perceptions and interpretations of the ANZAC legend/myth (Raynor,2000, p.113).

Archy, is the first of the two introduced to the audience. He is a bushman of the outback, an athletic sprinter, who seems to beat adversity in running races. Frank on the other hand, is an urban dweller and more wise than Archy in certain ways (he forges birth certificates, jumps trains) (Rattigan,1991, p.137). They both embody accepted Australian characters, but with an emphasis on Archy being the more ‘pure’ Australian (Rattigan,1991).

Mates: Archy & Frank (screen shot)

Australian concepts of loyalty and mateship are explored through the powerful relationship between Archy and Frank. Their mateship, a nationalistic feature in Australia, is cemented when they ‘navigate’ across the vast desert to reach Perth. The cinematography of these scenes is amazing. It captures the landscape, as a feature of national identity, but also as a transformative agent of the Australian spirit; a place where boys and men endure adversity and hardship, and ultimately grow into the strong and ideal Australian bushman.

Another very Australian character quality, emphasised in Gallipoli is competitive spirit. Competition plays a key role in developing the friendship and emergent mateship of Archy and Frank, who verse each other in rural running races. Other examples of Australian competitive spirit are borderless, with the football played in the deserts of Cairo (Western Australians v Victorians) and the constant haggling of prices with Egyptian traders (McMahonAndQuin,1990, p.117).

The battle of Gallipoli also represents a national development, of stepping away from Britain, and towards Australia as a nation. While still under the umbrella of the British Commonwealth, the film highlights the anti-authoritarian/anti-British sentiments felt by Australian soldiers. When the Australian soldiers move through the traders in Cairo, they spot British officers and take it in their stride to disrespect and imitate their formal manner. Another example is the description of the British sipping tea on the beach, while Australians sacrifice their lives going over the top (McMahonAndQuin,1990, p.117).

The final scene of Gallipoli is where the film really exemplifies Australian national character. Weir has chosen to remember the courage and selflessness of the ANZACs, epitomised by Archy’s final act (of mateship). Archy encapsulates what it means to be Australian when he knowingly runs towards certain death – dying for his country, but more importantly, for his mate, Frank.

Archy’s final act (screen shot)

Australian audiences responded to Gallipoli’s celebration of national identity (Freebury,1987, p.44). ‘Film, […] is the most powerful medium for projecting a “national identity”’ (Freebury,1987, p.43). Australians need to ‘see’ themselves in order to form a ‘national identity’. From this analysis one can see how nationalism is represented and projected in the film Gallipoli, a prime example of how Australian cinema can add to the resurgence of Australian nationalism.  

 ~

Bibliography: (Harvard, In-text)

Bodey, M 2006, ‘Gallipoli’, in Hocking, S (eds.) 2006, 100 Greatest Films of Australian Cinema, Scribal Publishing, Richmond (VIC), p. 104.

Freebury, J 1987, ‘Screening Australia: Gallipoli – a study of nationalism on film’, Media Information Australia.

McFarlane, B 1993, ‘Gallipoli’, in Murray, S (eds.) 1993, Australian Film: 1978-1992 – A survey of theatrical feature, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p.74.

McMahon, B and Quin, R 1990, Australian Images, Science Press, Marrickville (NSW).

Rattigan, N 1991 ‘Gallipoli’ in Images of Australia, SMU Press, p.135-138

Raynor, J 2000, Contemporary Australian Cinema: An Introduction, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Smith, A D 2001, Nationalism: theory, ideology, history, Wiley-Blackwell, Great Britain.

Filmography:

Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981).

By: Megan Walford, z3291268, ARTS2062

Word count: 980

War on the Fish’n’Chip Shop Floor

30 Mar

FILM REVIEW: Take Away (Marc Gracie, 2003)

‘serving up greed, revenge…and chips’

Take Away (Marc Gracie, 2003) is an Australian comedy, starring Vince Colosimo, Stephen Curry, Rose Byrne and Nathan Phillips. The plot centres on Tony Stilano (Colosimo) and Trev Spackneys (Curry), two bitter enemies who own and run rival fish and chips shops’ on the same quiet suburban Melbourne shopping strip. Tony, owner of ‘Tony’s Fish and Chippery’, is an Italian-Australian with high standards and a clean business practice. The complete opposite of Tony is Trev, owner of ‘Trev’s Fish and Chips’. He is a typical Australian character, the loveable bloke with a careless attitude and unprofessional work practice.

The two, fierce competitors, who have been trying to shut each other down since establishment, are forced, reluctantly, to work together when a multinational fast food chain, Burgies Burgers (laughably similar to McDonald’s), opens an outlet next to Tony’s, threatening both Tony and Trev’s take away businesses. The power of the Burgies chain is realised by Trev, when he states: ‘When that Burgies opens up down the street, this place is stuffed’. Nonetheless, Tony and Trev, backed by community support, do not give up and execute a ‘brilliant’ revenge plot against the Burgies outlet that is unexpected, slightly dramatic, and far-fetched, but completely likeable and hilarious at the same time. Overall, it is a light-hearted and heart-warmingly entertaining tale about the little guys, constantly battling their own differences, and taking on a big corporation.   

    

The film surrounds a true Australian battle of the underdog, the little guy versus a global company, with comedy, a traitor and a potential romance thrown in. Yes, this ‘David and Goliath’-style plot has been at the centre of other Australian films, such as The Castle (Rob Sitch, 1997) (in which Stephen Curry also stars). However, Take Away is not unoriginal, but a unique film that stands alone in its comedic portrayal of the battle between local and global forces.

Although some believe Australians don’t do the comedy genre too well, I believe Take Away is ingenious. It is satirical in nature, sending up nearly everything in the film, from the stereotypical Aussie versus the multicultural Australian, to the fast food chain, Burgies.  As Australians, we know how to laugh at ourselves, and wouldn’t put it past ourselves to do something completely ridiculous to prove a point (i.e. the revenge plot).

What I found really worked for this film was its characterisation, especially of Tony and Trev, and the way it introduced these rivals to the audience. The relationship between Tony and Trev is one of competition. When Tony hires his cousin, Sonja (Rose Byrne), as a trainee manager, Trev hires a trainee manager as well, Dave (Nathan Phillips), from Joblink. Every time they meet they are trying to outdo each other, their constant banter (‘Bullshit’, ’Bullshit you!’) is hilarious and believable.

Competitors: Trev & Tony (Screen Shot)

Vince Colosimo and Stephen Curry, do a brilliant job at portraying Tony and Trev respectively. Colosimo, who shined as Frank in The Wog Boy (Aleksi Vellis, 2000), realistically portrays multicultural Tony. His accent gives away Tony’s ethnic background, but the words that come out of his mouth are full of Australian idioms (e.g. “Competition is so shit-house”).

Curry, as the typical Australian slacker Trev, is most famous (pre-Take Away) for his role as Dale Kerrigan in the Australian classic, The Castle (Sitch, 1997). Trev has been criticised for being an over exaggerated version of the Australia character. However, I find this is key to the narrative of juxtaposing Tony and Trev. Trev’s vocabulary is full of slang, (‘corker’, ‘bloody ripper’), which provides the audience with much amusement.

The opening scenes of Tony and Trev set up and emphasise their inherent differences, by revealing their contrasting morning routines. The scenes are truly brilliant.

Tony is depicted as a organised, well-groomed espresso-drinker. He listens to Anthony Robbins’ motivation tapes and prepares fresh, high quality food. He has a system for everything; ‘drink fridge can rotation’, ‘lemon wedge preparation’ and ‘serviette folding’, just to name a few .

Trev, however, wakes up under an iconic vegemite jar doona cover in a cluttered, messy room. He brushes his teeth with his finger, makes chips out of dirty potatoes and flings his used teabag at the ceiling, adding to the others already dangling above his head. He has a complete disregard for hygiene and safe-work practices.

As the two open up their respective fish and chip shops for the day, we see immaculate Tony in his simple black uniform, and in contrast, laid-back Trev in an Aerosmith band t-shirt, trackies and Dunlop runners. It epitomises how opposite the two are and helps cement the difficulty they would have joining forces to beat Burgies.

         

What I found most disappointing about the film was aspects of the cinematography. While majority of the film was shot well, I felt it lacked any real setting shots of the local area. The audience can tell its set in Melbourne (from the car number plates, and the barely visible “Alphington” suburb sign), but not with absolute assurance. I believe more setting shots in this film would have helped emphasise and develop the notion of ‘community’, that is an important, ever-present component of the narrative. Contrastingly, when Tony and Trev fly to Sydney to confront the Burgies CEO (John Howard), the setting shots are almost like tourism commercials, as the camera sweeps over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in an aerial shot. This of course could be seen as the difference between the local, grass roots Melbourne community and the superficial, busy Sydney city. 

     

The film also provides great social commentary on the fast-food industry. The Burgies workplace is seen as a stressful environment, staffing children barely legally allowed to work (one front counter staffer looks about 10 years old). The fast food chain brainwashes children and adults alike with competitions, giveaways, toys and catchy advertising campaigns (sound familiar?).

Take Away pokes fun at almost everything represented in the film; stereotypical characters and the fast food industry. I believe Take Away is a feel good, easy entertainment film that most Australians can relate to.

Truly enjoyable.

Word Count: 985

By: Megan Walford, z3291268

ARTS2062, 2011 !

Filmography:

Take Away (Gracie, 2003)

The Castle (Sitch, 1997)

The Wog Boy (Vellis, 2000)

**All images are screen shots from the DVD, and are used for non-commerical, purely educational purposes**

“Griff the Invisible” (2011)

16 Mar

This post really doesnt relate to anything specific in the uni course I’m doing, except that it falls under the category of Australian Cinema.

Just wanted to say:

I REALLY WANT TO GO AND SEE Griff the Invisible ! Besides that fact that Ryan Kwanten is the lead, this movie looks enjoyable and quirky !

(Now when will i find the time to get to the movies and see it ? ) Screening Times !

-Megan