Australian Post-War Documentary Film An Arc of Mirrors By Deane Williams
Deane Williams is Head of Film and Television Studies, Monash University, Melbourne. He is author of Mapping the Imaginary: Ross Gibson’s Camera Natura and, with Brian McFarlane, author of Michael Winterbottom, and Editor of Studies in Documentary Film. * * * ‘This is an immensely thoughtful and timely contribution to the growing literature on the history of documentary cinema.’ – Charles Wolfe, Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. ‘Deane Williams invites readers on an always enlightening and often exciting journey, through a complex web of people and films and events, to view Australian culture through the documentary film ‘arc of mirrors’. – Associate Professor Ina Bertrand, Principal Fellow in the Screen Studies Programme, University of Melbourne.
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‘A thoroughly and painstakingly researched study of its subject, which draws upon a wealth of new oral and other forms of historical resource related to the Australian labour movement and associated filmmaking’ – Ian Aitken, Associate Professor in Film Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, and Senior Research Fellow in Film Studies at De Montfort University.
Australian Post-War Documentary Film: An Arc of Mirrors
This book is, at one level, a selective history of Australian documentary film in the immediate post-war years. At another level it is a sketch of an internationalist progressive film culture in the same place and period. It examines some landmark films in Australian Film History, including Three in One, The Back of Beyond and Mike and Stefani and places these important works in an international context. In this groundbreaking work of film history Deane Williams proposes that, while these films have been understood as inferior remakes of “overseas” written, theatrical and filmic texts, these films are evidence of an Australian film culture that was a key participant in an international network of documentary practice and criticism.
‘With erudition and insight, Deane Williams in this book reconstructs a previously obscured era of documentary cinema in Australia, shedding light on the network of affiliations and associations that underlay the making of a cluster of compelling, politically charged documentary films in the post-war era. Keying the study to an international discourse on documentary politics and aesthetics that extends far beyond the familiar compass of Grierson’s argument for documentary as an instrument of nation-building, Williams demonstrates how post-war documentary film-makers drew creatively on the practices and themes of left-wing, government, and corporate-sponsored film-making groups around the globe, as well as ideas about cinema aesthetics in wide circulation. At the same time he keeps an eye sharply fixed on the unique circumstance in which Australian post-war documentaries were produced, distributed, and exhibited. Works by heretofore insufficiently appreciated filmmakers – Ken Coldicutt, Bob Matthews, Cecil Holmes, John Heyer, R. Masyln Williams – serve as anchors for a detailed exploration of the fragile and shifting infrastructures attending documentary production, and for perceptive commentary on the stylistic and thematic patterns to be found in particular works. Especially rich in this regard is Williams’ discussion of the “settler journey” motif, a recurring documentary trope reworked in a variety of Australian post-war documentaries, and echoed in the very conditions of production that sent several of the filmmakers on intellectual travels abroad. In attending closely to these films, Williams provides a model for understanding post-war documentary as a complex, transnational form that was flexibly adapted to local social and political conditions. This is an immensely thoughtful and timely contribution to the growing literature on the history of documentary cinema.’ Charles Wolfe Professor of Film and Media Studies University of California, Santa Barbara. ‘Deane Williams re-evaluates Australian documentary film production after World War II, positioning it as part of an international left culture, which can embrace producers as different as the Realist Film Unit, Cecil Holmes, John Heyer and Maslyn Williams. He invites readers on an always enlightening and often exciting journey, through a complex web of people and films and events, to view Australian culture through the documentary film ‘arc of mirrors’.’ Associate Professor Ina Bertrand Principal Fellow in the Screen Studies programme University of Melbourne. ‘This book provides a comprehensive and in-depth survey of post-war traditions of Australian documentary film. The book begins with an account of the formation and activities of the Realist Film Unit/ Association, charting the development of a committed documentary film culture in Melbourne from 1945 onwards, and prefacing that with an account of the growth of a progressive film culture in Australia during the 1930s. After this, the book turns to a close analysis of a number of significant Australian films made during the 1950s. In each case, extensive primary research produces a wealth of detail and analysis of these films, and also illuminates the more general context of Australian documentary film-making and the engagement with issues of cinematic realism. Australian Post-War Documentary Film: An Arc of Mirrors is a thoroughly and painstakingly researched study of its subject, which draws upon a wealth of new oral and other forms of historical resource related to the Australian labour movement and associated film-making. The book will be invaluable to scholars and students of Australian documentary cinema, and the documentary film in general.’ Ian Aitken Associate Professor in Film Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, and Senior Research Fellow in Film Studies at De Montfort University.
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This book is for Maddie and Ella Williams
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First Published in the UK in 2008 by Intellect Books, The Mill, Parnall Road, Fishponds, Bristol, BS16 3JG, UK First published in the USA in 2008 by Intellect Books, The University of Chicago Press, 1427 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA Copyright ÂŠ 2008 Intellect Ltd All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Cover Design: Gabriel Solomons Copy Editor: Rebecca Vaughan-Williams Typesetting: Mac Style, Nafferton, E. Yorkshire ISBN 978-1-84150-210-6 EISBN 978-1-84150-259-5 Printed and bound by Gutenberg Press, Malta.
List of Illustrations Acknowledgements Preface Introduction: Grierson Diminished
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Chapter 1: A Realist Film Unit and Association in Australia
Chapter 2: Cecil Holmesâ€™s Folk Politics: The Intertextuality of Three in One
Chapter 3: John Heyerâ€™s International Perspective: The Overlanders, The Valley is Ours, The Back of Beyond
Chapter 4: The Neo-Realism of Mike and Stefani
Chapter 5: Settler Journeys
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List of Illustrations
Cover image â€“ Maslyn Williams (far right) and Reg Pearse (behind camera) on location shooting Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia. Prices and the People (1948) Realist Film Unit. Betty Lacey (Elizabeth Coldicutt) filming 19?? May Day March in Melbourne. Courtesy Elizabeth Coldicutt and David Muir. Bob Mathews filming demonstration, Melbourne 19??. Courtesy Mathews family. Prices and the People (1948) stills. Betty Lacey, Vic Arnold (pointing) Bob Mathews (far right) at Melbourne Film Festival at Olinda in 1952. Courtesy Mathews family. Ken Coldicutt. Courtesy Elizabeth Coldicutt. Cecil Holmes. Courtesy Film Australia. John Heyer. Deane Williams collection. Dan McAlpine (Chips Rafferty) and Mary Parsons (Daphne Campbell in The Overlanders (1946). Courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Tom Kruse (left), William Henry Butler (right) in The Back of Beyond (1954). Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. The Back of Beyond (1954). Deane Williams collection. Damien Parer, Maslyn Williams, Frank Hurley and George Silk. Courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia. Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia. Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia. Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia. Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia.
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I am greatly indebted to many people, all of whom provided support and advice and I wish I could thank everyone here. My first thankyou must go to Bill Routt for his endless patience, assistance and unique ability to provide encouragement. My thanks to Ross Gibson for his mentorship, for encouragement, accommodation and yarning in Sydney. Thanks to John Hughes for granting me access to his Realist Film Unit/Association collection that forms the primary material for Chapter 1 and for encouraging me to read Australian film historically. Thanks to Paul Adams, Chris Long, Albert Moran and Angela Oâ€™Brien for access to their unpublished research; to Ken Berryman, Helen Tully and Zsuzsi Szucs at the National Film and Sound Archive for access to all the films and the interviews with John Heyer and Cecil Holmes and to Martha Ansara for her interview with John Heyer. Thanks to Aysen Mustafa, Leigh Astbury, Ina Bertrand, Rolando Caputo, Sally Carr, Felicity Collins, John Cumming, Graeme Cutts, Annie Goldson, Helen Grace, Kevin Hart, John Hess, Brian MacFarlane, Andrew Milner, Gaye Naismith, Tom Oâ€™Regan, Keyan Tomaselli and Constantine Verevis for their assistance at various times, all of which proved valuable. Thanks to Judy Adamson, Lloyd Edmonds, Edna Fitzsimons, Amira Inglis, Ed Schefferle, Dot Thompson, Catherine Duncan, Ken Coldicutt, Elizabeth Coldicutt, Gerry Harant, Bob Klepner, Joan Long , Anna Muir, Roslyn Poignant, Colin Dean, Eddie Allison and Don and Nicky Munro for providing accounts of their era. Special thanks to the late Cecil Holmes, Bob Mathews, John Heyer and to Gerry Harant for agreeing to be interviewed and for permission to use their words in this book and to the late Ron Maslyn Williams for permission to access the interview with Andrew Pike and Merrilyn Fitzpatrick held by the National Film and Sound Archive. Different versions of some portions of this book have appeared in Metro 100 (1994), 104 (December 1995), and 129/30 (Spring 2001); Screening the Past Issue 2 (1997) and Issue 7 (1999); Australian Studies [UK] 17: 1 (Summer 2002); Filmnews 23: 9 (1993); Studies in Australasian Film 1: 1 (2007) and in two collections: Screening the Past: Aspects of Early Australian Film, edited by Ken Berryman (Canberra: National Film and Sound Archive [Australia], 1995); From Grierson to the Docu-Soap: Breaking the Boundaries, edited by John Izod and Richard Kilborn with Matthew Hibberd (Luton: University of Luton Press, 2000).
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At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Melbourne-based poet Bernard O’Dowd wrote a sonnet entitled ‘Australia’, in which he described the new nation as the ‘Last sea-thing dredged by sailor Time from Space’. It’s a great line. Say it out loud a few times and you’ll never forget it. But don’t believe it. Argue with it instead. For one thing, Australia may well hakve been the first geographical space to appear in terrestrial time. But more to the point, this notion that Australia is isolated, abandoned, and desolately awaiting the news, it’s a notion only half right and it simply does not accord with the way human beings have always functioned here. Suspicion of outside influences is one defining characteristic of Australia, but the obverse is true too. The trade of goods and ideas has long been a mainstay of Australian society. For example, there have been centuries of interactions between Macassan sailors and North Australian Yolngnu people. Elsewhere in the continent, commodities and information were carried hundreds of kilometres along communication channels that were kept open for thousands of years. And in more recent times – once the Europeans had colonized the place – the newcomers maintained a kind of mania for connectedness, sending and receiving messages and merchandise back and forth to the larger world as if their lives depended on these transactions, which was indeed the case in the early decades of the settlement. Understood like this, the country has a history of remediation, a history that has been active, most likely, for many centuries. By the middle of the twentieth century, documentary film was part of this history. Even as the documentary was in evolution and contestation worldwide, the Australian variant of the form was being imported and produced in multiple, surprising modes and sub-genres. With his new book, Deane Williams helps us see this creative unruliness clearly. In Williams’ account, we see how policy-driven nation-building vied with aesthetic envisaging and spiritual questing, how transnational commerce (the Shell company’s film units, for example) intertwined with the local chapters of socialist cultural troupes, how nationalists and globalists circled around each other and sometimes traded places. We see, in fact, a kaleidoscopic swirl of documentary activities
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happening in a place at a time within an economy where we have customarily been told nothing existed, or at least nothing other than dun imitations of British-style informational programs spoken over an illustrative spool of prosaic, evidentiary pictures. Instead, following Williams’ investigation we see a documentary culture that was multifarious, ingenious and energetic. We see a culture defying its smallness and its supposedly marginal placement. We see a culture engaged with Asia, Russia, middle-Europe, the South Pacific, the United States, the United Kingdom and Western Europe as well as with its own indigenous and recently immigrant societies. Indeed we see a documentary culture that, for all its fragility and lack of industrial scale, was perhaps the least parochial of any in the world. And in seeing this, we can’t help but see the world differently too. I mean the world of documentary film, of course, but also the world of nations, of international ideologies, of aesthetic and philanthropic movements, of money. And the world of devotion. For this is what Williams shows most strikingly: how the post-war documentary movement in Australia was lively with devotion, no matter how contradictory, no matter how antagonistic some of the strands may have been. As local film-makers addressed and adapted the documentary form, they reinvented it and remediated it and gave it back to the world in ways that force us to examine anew the entire global phenomenon of realist representation. In looking closely at a small and seemingly insignificant site of documentary production, Williams has also given us a much broader vision. And he has offered it back to the world. So the remediation continues. Ross Gibson Professor of Contemporary Arts at the University of Sydney Sydney, May 2008
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Introduction: Grierson Diminished
In many of the international histories and accounts of documentary film John Grierson is afforded a substantial role. Numerous books on documentary film attribute to him the first use of the term ‘documentary’ in relation to film including Lewis Jacobs’s The Documentary Tradition, which contains a famous review of Robert Flaherty’s film Moana in which Grierson wrote ‘of course Moana, being a visual account of events in the daily life of a Polynesian youth and his family, has documentary value’ (Jacobs 1979: 25). Forsyth Hardy contributes to the myth, eliding the study and production of documentary film and the subject of his biography, writing: ‘in the early thirties a new word and a new name began to appear with some regularity in the public prints of the English-speaking world. The new word was “documentary” and the new name John Grierson’ (Hardy 1966: 13). Grierson was a major contributor to the early writing on documentary. His essays in World Film News, Cinema Quarterly and Documentary Newsletter, not only served his purpose of drawing attention to the films, they also became part of the fledgling international network of cinema journals. Grierson’s assertiveness in ‘First principles of documentary’, ‘The E.M.B. Film Unit’ and ‘The course of realism’, all reprinted in Grierson on Documentary, were prominent contributions to the discourse of realist film and, of course, to the figure of John Grierson. For film communities outside of Britain, like Australia, these essays often preceded the availability of the films Grierson had been involved with and proffered a particular reception of the films. Not only were the films made by people such as Harry Watt, Edgar Anstey, Basil Wright, Arthur Elton and Alberto Cavalcanti under the banner British documentary movement understood as Grierson films, they were often understood through the vision for them that Grierson proposed. One prominent way that Australian documentary (and to some extent feature) film production has been understood is in relation to a mythicized trip made by Grierson to this country. He visited Canada, New Zealand and Australia from 1938 to 1940 representing the Imperial Relations Trust who, Graham Shirley and Brian Adams write, employed him to report on ‘the style of official documentary work in each country and make suggestions about future activity’
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(Shirley and Adams 1989: 165). Although Grierson visited and made recommendations early in the war, it was not until 1945 that the supposed effects of Grierson’s recommendations were seen to be implemented in Australia, although in a modified form: the establishment of an Australian National Film Board (ANFB). In many general accounts, the emergence of the ANFB has often been directly associated with Grierson. In Projecting Australia, Albert Moran explains the ‘metamorphosis’ of the previous Film Division of the Department of Information into the Australian National Film Board in 1945 by writing ‘to understand this change, we must begin with the 1940 visit to Australia of John Grierson, the “father of the British documentary film”’ (Moran 1991: 2). Underpinning Moran’s understanding is a reliance on the figure of Grierson as a foundation upon which the discourse of documentary film in this country has been built. Similarly, Graham Shirley and Bryan Adams claim that ‘[t]he achievements of the Grierson movement were eventually to influence the documentary production of no less than ten nations’ (Shirley and Adams 1989: 165). However, Grierson was not well received in Australia. While the conservative Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies ‘agreed to co-operate with Grierson and provide him with whatever information he needed for his report to the Trust’ (Bertrand and Collins 1981: 98), his reputation counted for little in directly influencing government policy. Grierson arrived in Australia expecting the same kind of courteous attention he had received in Canada, and on his arrival in Sydney he began well by having talks with representatives of the New South Wales Government. Ulrich Ellis, of the Commonwealth Department of Commerce, then escorted him to Canberra and Melbourne, where both host and guest became increasingly puzzled and frustrated at the politely distant reception and the difficulty of obtaining an interview with the Prime Minister. When Menzies finally did see Grierson they did not get on well: Grierson became convinced that nothing would come of it and that his whole visit to Australia was a waste of time. He did present two reports to the Australian government, a short and rather informal one and later a more detailed one. Both were tactfully critical of the situation he found: he commented that Australia was ‘well behind other leading countries’, but that the potential existed for great achievements. However, the response to these reports was as cool as to his personal representations. Ellis attributed this indifference variously to the personal incompatibility of Menzies and Grierson, to lack of interest in the Imperial Relations Trust, and to fear of trespassing on private enterprise. He also pointed out that the subsequent Labor Government showed no more interest than Menzies had. (Bertrand and Collins 1981: 98) This is not to say that Grierson had no influence. As we will see, Grierson’s tenets for documentary were influential internationally and Australian documentary makers and lobbyists drew on them as models for institutional documentary such as that made at the ANFB. Yet Grierson was one influence among many. For my purposes, the major influence of Grierson’s work may be said to lie in the stylistic attributes that emanate from what was understood to be the social needs of a country like
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Australia. Post-war Australia was envisaged as needing reconstruction as a nation and documentary film was to play a major role in this nation-building. Moran, in his ‘Australian documentary cinema’, reads the role of the ANFB’s productions through Grierson’s essay ‘First principles of documentary’. It was felt that such a film should help to construct a unified nation by showing one part of the country to other parts. It was to focus on the kinds of social problems facing a particular part of the nation and would show how these were being overcome. It needed to get away from the cliches of ‘kangaroos, koala bears and fields of waving wheat’ and had instead, to focus on elements of Australia and the national experience not usually seen. Such a film was not to be imitative of British or American films and if it were to be dramatised, then actors rather than stars were to be used. In any case, the film should not have been studio bound but rather, it was to be shot on location, and of course, had to be documentary. (Moran 1983: 92) Grierson’s letter ‘Memorandum to the Right Honourable, the Prime Minister’, the second report Grierson presented, written on a ship as he travelled to New Zealand, may be understood as a kind of manifesto for such a Film Board. 1. The film is a powerful medium of information and if mobilised in an orderly way under a determined government policy, is of special value to the Australian Government at the present juncture. 2. It could do much in the following vital matters: (a) Break down sectionalism and induce a national viewpoint, by bringing alive Australia to itself in terms of films describing national effort and constructive contributions to the more important fields of national activity. (b) Bring the disparate elements of the war effort together and create in the Australian mind an integrated view of the national war purpose and war effort. (c) Bring into the public imagination the problems, responsibilities and achievements of Government. (d) Project to other countries a view of Australia as a powerful and progressive people, fulfilling its responsibilities to a large new territory – a matter of great importance today in international information. (e) By projecting Australia, contribute substantially to the ‘projection’ of the British Commonwealth of Nations. (‘Memorandum’ in Moran and O’Regan 1985: 72–73) This particularly loaded set of proposals represents Grierson’s position on Australia as a member of the Commonwealth, yet as we will see, the focus on the singular influence of these proposals slowly diminished with the consideration of other forces at hand at this time. For example, although Albert Moran had mentioned in Projecting Australia that Heyer’s The Valley is Ours relied on Pare Lorentz’s The River (Moran 1991: 49), it seemed to me that there
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must be something more than simple imitation occurring here. My understanding of The Back of Beyond (1954), in particular, had, up until this point, been in relation to ideas of nationbuilding and Griersonian ideals for documentary. I had taken up Ross Gibson’s suggestion that a comparison with Night Mail (1936) may have proved useful (Gibson 1989: 83). These two suggestions led to comparisons with a whole set of landscape documentaries, particularly the work performed under Roosevelt’s New Deal such as the films of Lorentz, and those made by Joris Ivens, Robert Flaherty and Alexander Hammid. These films provoked a consideration of larger economic, political and cultural shifts in the Depression-era United States which, for me, suggested a model which was being remade in post-war Australia leading to the production of films derived from US models. In Chapter 3 I trace these textual similarities in Heyer’s The Valley is Ours and The Back of Beyond to Night Mail, Harry Watt’s Ealing production of The Overlanders (1945), Lorentz’s The Plow that Broke the Plains (1935) and The River (1936), Flaherty’s The Land (1942) and Hammid’s The Valley of the Tennessee (1944) in relation to New Deal and similar policies of social reform in post-war Australia. Maslyn Williams’s Mike and Stefani is a film unlike much Australian institutional production in the post-war period. This film was not like the films of Heyer, for example, because it drew on a model for film-making that was less informational and more ‘humanist’. The film had been discussed by Moran in Projecting Australia as a neo-realist docu-drama (Moran 1991: 46), but I wanted to know more about this equation of a style of film-making, which I had associated principally with André Bazin and Roberto Rossellini, with Williams’s self-proclaimed post-war left Catholic world view. An exploration of the lineage to which Bazin belonged led me to Emmanuel Mounier, Roger Leenhardt and the journal Esprit through which the ideas known collectively as ‘Personalism’ were propounded. As I have indicated already, there was a pattern of consistent remaking and transforming of international cinematic, institutional and cultural models emerging in the research, which had been couched in terms of ‘influence’, ‘reliance’ and ‘imitation’ by Australian film historians. In the last chapter of this book I address these concerns in relation to the broader settler culture of white Australia. I consider the processes of remaking and transformation not just as a result of the ‘colonial condition’ but as one predicated on the international, what we now call global, film culture that flowered in the post-war years. In essence all film cultures, internationally, imitated; everyone was imitating everyone else. In the conclusion I address the notion of settlement as one key to unlocking the way that the imitative character of colonial cultural production has been deemed simply imitative and therefore debased. I then go on to suggest suitable ways of thinking ourselves out of the binds of colonialism. The understanding of Australian documentary film in the post-war years that I brought to this project was gleaned, in the main, from Albert Moran and Tom O’Regan’s ‘Two discourses of Australian film’ and Moran’s ‘Australian documentary cinema’ and Projecting Australia. Moran’s work enabled me to understand Heyer’s The Back of Beyond and Williams’ Mike and Stefani in relation to the discourse of institutional documentary and the way that these films were bound up in the nation-building milieu of the post-war years. It also provided a glimpse of the kind of
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mirroring that eventually led to my own historical work in this book. The emphasis that Moran’s work gave to institutional documentary, however, had not provided for the more ‘radical’ films of the Realist Film Unit and that of Cecil Holmes – films also ‘influenced’ by foreign and local models. In their 1983 ‘Two discourses of Australian film’, Moran and O’Regan assert that they want to ‘challenge the various histories of Australian film that already exist’ and ‘to call for a different account of Australian film than that already entered into’ by Eric Reade’s The Australian Screen, Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper’s Australian Films 1900–1977: Guide to Feature Film Production, and Ina Bertrand and Diane Collins’ Government and Film in Australia (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 163). These books, they assert, present Australian film as ‘a homogenous object and the point of these histories is to offer a teleology of that object, an account of linear growth and development’ (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 163). Against this type of account they argue: Australian film is not a single unified object but a series of different objects, differently realised. Australian film can be thought of as a series of different discursive constructions, the discourses occupying a series of different institutional sites that variously allow or impede the issue of the discourse as a set of filmic texts … There is no evolution or development across time. There is instead a series of different distinct constructions of Australian film having little or nothing in common with each other. (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 163) Unexpectedly, Moran and O’Regan make no mention of Graham Shirley and Brian Adams’s Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years published in 1983, the same year as ‘Two discourses’. In some ways Australian Cinema represents a slightly different kind of history from the others – one in which Australian film history is a series of anecdotal moments often gleaned from oral accounts. Although presented in chronological order, Shirley and Adams’s history forms a more fragmented account of Australian cinema that includes, for example, all the Australian documentary films addressed in this book. Yet again their history is an overarching one spanning 75 years of Australian film culture in 280 pages all in the service of the feature narrative ‘revival’ of the 1970s. They write, This journey through the first eighty years to 1975 documents some of the social, financial, political and artistic events which combined to make a fascinating story, culminating at a time when all these elements came together to provide a springboard for a more substantial and continuing Australian film industry. (Shirley and Adams 1989: viii) Despite its fragmentary nature and attention to minutia, Australian Cinema is a prime example of an Australian film history that is ‘an account of linear growth and development’ (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 163). Moran and O’Regan are interested in understanding the Australian cinema through a discursive shift from ‘Australian film as documentary’ in the period 1940 to 1960 to ‘Australian film as feature
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narrative’ in the period after 1960. Their project is to provide a means of thinking themselves out of the paradigm of a unified national industry and to propose some reasons for the discursive shift from documentary film to feature narrative which has diminished the attention given to documentary film in academic writing in this country (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 163). In contrast to this book, the discourse of documentary that they locate relied on Griersonian tenets to fulfil ‘social duties’ based on ‘the assumption of a universal humanism. People everywhere, so the argument goes, are human, just like ourselves, and therefore inherently deserving of our curiosity and interest’ (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 164). Moran and O’Regan point to the emergence in 1940s Australia of a new cinema, ‘documentary’, which they distinguish from its predecessors in actuality filming by drawing on Alan Lovell’s description of British documentary film as ‘an art cinema that had no interest in art’. However to say that the filmmakers were not interested in art is not to imply that they were naive and crude in their aesthetic practices. As the films themselves bear witness, they were not. Rather it is to suggest that Australian documentary in the 1940s and 1950s, like English documentary, lacked any very extended vocabulary for the articulation and discussion of aesthetic questions and issues. Most frequently terms from a social/ethical vocabulary were pressed into service in the aesthetic sphere. In particular documentary film was unable to render any account of the filmmaker as artist. At the most the filmmaker was little more than the facilitator of reality’s register on the film. (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 166) Documentary ‘looked back to Grierson, British documentary and the British film society movement of the 1930s’ (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 170). It may be that the recourse to Grierson as the salient point for documentary restricted the discourse at this time, closing off any very extended vocabulary for the articulation and discussion of ‘aesthetic questions and issues’ other than realism in the service of nationalism. This book considers Grierson and the British documentary movement as one influence among many. Another history (such as the one I had intended to write) could have provided an account of the influence of specific people on documentary film-making in Australia in the post-war period. A history unlike this one could trace the details of the visits of Grierson and Watt to discover who these people met with and how they influenced film-making in this country. This kind of history could address the visit of Joris Ivens and the making of Indonesia Calling (1946), a film that now seems to warrant urgent attention. For the left in Australia, like the rest of the world, Ivens was a heroic figure whose films such as Borinage (1933) New Earth (1934) and in particular Spanish Earth (1937) had provided much inspiration for the pockets of oppositional film. Ivens’s clandestine filming of Indonesia Calling in 1945 was a moment of mobilization of the broader governmental (which included Harry Watt, John Heyer and Catherine Duncan) and oppositional film organizations and the majority of the ‘left’ who contributed to the film. Indonesia Calling, a film about the refusal of the unions
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in Australia to man Dutch ships in support of the new Indonesian republic, is an example of an international radical film production which saw the end of Ivens’s commission with the Dutch Government. Prior to his being embroiled in a controversy over his involvement in the film, Ivens, according to Graeme Cutts, was employed by the Netherlands Indies Government (in what we now call Indonesia) to make a film ‘to bring to the public in England, the United States and Australia, as well as Holland, the recording of the campaign to liberate the Netherlands Indies [from the Japanese], combined with the political, social and economical reconstruction of the reborn Netherlands Indies’ (Cutts 1985: 350). Upon liberation from the Japanese, a republic of Indonesia was proclaimed. Ivens resigned his commission and made a film about the antiimperialist stance of the Waterfront Unions of Australia. I suspect that some attention to Ivens’s visit may further diminish Grierson’s role due to his involvement in the fledgling Australian National Film Board where Ivens participated ‘recommending personnel, and [giving] an address at the inaugural meeting of the Board’ (Cutts 1985: 361) while film stock was donated by Harry Watt to the production of Indonesia Calling. Like Grierson, Ivens visited individuals and organizations in Australia, in this case radical film and theatre units attempting, amongst other things, to set up a nexus of working-class image production on an international scale. Unlike Grierson, who is often considered as the father figure of the National Film Board, Ivens is seldom considered in relation to it. Another omission from this book is Damien Parer, whose relationship with John Heyer and Maslyn Williams is discussed only in so far as it throws light on the work of Heyer and Williams, yet Parer is for some people a significant enough figure in this period to have had three biographies written about him.1 Although Parer began his film career in the feature film making ventures of the 1930s and 1940s mainly as a production stills photographer and factotum on these films, it was with the Department of Information, Film Division, that Parer was to become a household name in Australia and more importantly, Australia’s premier documentary film-maker of the period. Parer’s films were episodes of newsreels ‘made’ by (and there is some contention here) Cinesound, a newsreel ‘review’ company. Yet the images that Parer shot, most notably in Kokoda Front Line (1942) and Assault on Salamaua (1943) in New Guinea, became a significant model for subsequent documentary film-makers in Australia. Kokoda Front Line, according to Stuart Cunningham and William D. Routt, received a citation for ‘“distinctive achievement in documentary production’ announced at the [American] Academy Award ceremonies held on 6 March 1943’ (Cunningham and Routt 1989: 213). The avoidance of attributing any singular influence to Ivens and Parer, (or Grierson) is performed in the service of attempting to give a voice to a more complex and general notion of an international left film culture in the post-war years, a recognition of a perhaps less ‘celebrity’focused notion of an international left film culture in which Australia participated. The notion of a left film culture is an oblique way of describing what this book is about. At the same time this is exactly what it concerns; a web-like series of immediate and distanced filmmakers, governmental, oppositional and sometimes both. The book’s shift from the Realist Film
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Unit to Cecil Holmes to John Heyer to Maslyn Williams might have been understood by some of their contemporaries as a radical shift from left (Communist) to right (Catholic). However, the idea of the left that underlies this project is as amorphous as it was understood to be by the people who participated in it at the time. This book is, at one level, concerned precisely with the discourse of documentary although the project of this book is to broaden, to internationalize, the documentary discourse by tracing the many cultural influences that impacted on documentary production, diminishing the Griersonian legacy in this period. I take up Moran and O’Regan’s suggestion that the discourse of documentary was propelled by a ‘culturally internationalist vanguard’ (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 172). However, while Moran and O’Regan use this term to describe the forces that led to the setting up of the Australian National Film Board, it is also an appropriate term to describe Australian documentary film culture generally. The notion of a culturally internationalist vanguard describes the people who are addressed in this book. The Realist Film Unit and Association, Cecil Holmes, John Heyer and Maslyn Williams are employed as figures around which it is possible to discuss impersonal cultural influences such as ideology, style and filmic and written texts. Moreover, these figures are employed to connect the films that they made to these larger influences. In this manner this book avoids another trap that previous generations have fallen into. There is no attempt here to represent a national cinema or the history of Australian cinema but to contribute to the study of Australian film culture through the consideration of films that have been rarely discussed. This book draws on much of the writing mentioned above. It is also a marked departure in that it provides a close examination of the films under consideration. Australian film history, like all film histories, appears initially in general terms and from these larger works are drawn the fragments to which people apply particular methodologies. The films and inevitably the milieux from which they arise are read in terms of the moment of writing. This book understands these films through our contemporary discourses of globalization and remaking, two discourses that this book brings together. At one level the films are understood as remaking other films. Australian documentaries are related to an international nexus of film appreciation and distribution that emerged out of the Second World War. In this case the films are understood as remakes. At another level this book remakes these films discursively, remaking the ways in which they have been addressed in terms of the overseas films that they are like. They are also discussed in relation to the cultures that gave rise to them. The Realist Film Unit and Association’s film-making and criticism belongs to an international communist film appreciation of how and for what film should be used. Three in One belongs to an international left folk culture revival of the 1950s. The Back of Beyond belongs to a whole host of landscape documentaries, particularly the lineage that emerged from the US Government’s policies of the 1930s. Mike and Stefani belongs to a tradition of left Catholic thought that was given a voice through the journal Esprit.
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In these ways there is nothing about these films, in this discussion, that fits the generalized notion of ‘essentially’ Australian cinema. While the book makes no pretensions to unaffected wholeness it is, at the same time, concerned with proposing a model of Australian cinema in the post-war years that is informed by an understanding of white settler culture in this country. The notion of an imitative culture, although directly addressed only in closing, is the common thread, the arc that this history remakes; an arc of mirrors. Note 1. See Frank Legg (1963), Niall Brennan (1994), Neil McDonald (1994).
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1 A Realist Film Unit and Association in Australia
Melbourne’s Realist Film Unit was formed in late 1945, initially as a film production unit. Over time the Unit evolved into the Realist Film Association which played a key role in the promulgation of the film society movement in Victoria. The Unit, and later the Association, were loosely affiliated with the Australian Communist Party, in so far as many members of the Unit belonged to the Party and the Realists had associations with various unions and pursued the importation, exhibition and production of film for agitational purposes.1 To position the Realists in relation to similar international left political organizations it is useful to go back to the 1930s. Charles Merewether points out the interconnectedness of the Realists with other similar organizations: The Communist Party had already promoted screenings and discussion of a film Friends of the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Art Club magazine carrying an article on the subject. English political filmmaker and a founder of the Workers’ Film Societies (1929), Ralph Bond wrote of the need for a workers’ film movement, whatever the limited financial resources, and briefly discussed the work of the English Workers’ Film Movement. Also publications such as the American New Masses and New Theatre Review carried articles on the Film and Photo League and NyKino. It is also likely that through people like Jean Devaney’s work as the Australian national secretary of the Workers’ International Relief German film and photo movements were known. The WIR played a key role in developing such organisations. (Merewether 1982: 59–60) One of the earliest models for left-wing film movements, the German Internationale Arbeiterhilfe (IAH), was known in English as the Workers International Relief (WIR). This organization was
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initiated in 1921 by Vladimir Lenin who, John Willett writes ‘called in Willi Muenzenberg, recently appointed head of the Communist Youth International, whom he commissioned to found a new organization of International Workers aid’ (Willett 1978: 71). This organization had its headquarters in Berlin, reported directly to the Comintern and initiated a cultural dialogue between Russia and Germany based on propaganda which Willett writes was ‘a fundamental part of the organization’s job’ (Willett 1978: 71). In Deadly Parallels, Bert Hogenkamp writes that the WIR ‘mobilised the latest propaganda methods at its disposal, such as the illustrated press and the cinema’. The propaganda networks that the WIR began are pertinent to this discussion in that they saw the ‘introduction of Soviet films into Western Europe and the United States’ (Hogenkamp 1986: 21). The WIR also began commissioning Soviet film-makers to ‘produce documentaries on living conditions in Russia’ (Murray 1990: 52). These films were included in German WIR screenings which Murray writes ‘were so successful that the AIH [an organizational arm of the WIR] decided to expand its program to, include featured [sic] films and to open its own theatre’ (Murray 1990: 52). Murray asserts that the success of the film program ultimately meant that ‘communists gradually developed long-term political and cultural strategies that included a proletarian film program’ (Murray 1990: 53). Murray also describes how the IAH, ‘established formats for film events that facilitated their use for influencing public opinion on specific issues’. They ‘scheduled a film tour and distributed circulars outlining eighteen specific steps to be taken in preparing local film events’ (Murray 1990: 119). Merewether’s comments about the importance of organizations such as the WIR and attendant publications suggests the way that the Realists were, from the outset, imbedded in a larger left intellectual and cultural milieu. Out of this milieu emerged organizations such as the Workers’ Art Clubs in Melbourne and Sydney that, Merewether writes, had been established by 1932 (Merewether 1977: 70). Again, these Clubs are understood by Merewether to have had international antecedents. Although the founding of these Clubs was a direct response by a group of creative artists to the prevailing conditions [the Depression], it did take its inspiration from the Clubs set up in Russia, Germany and America, most of which were communist organized or aligned. (Merewether 1977: 70) These Clubs provided a strong model for the Realists. Although their focus seems to have been mainly literary, [t]he activities of the Clubs were various, offering to a predominantly unemployed membership literature readings and classes, art and drama classes, film and lecture evenings, and social functions. These events were rostered almost every evening of the week, occasionally collaborating with the Friends of the Soviet Union in theatrical performances and art exhibitions, but more especially soviet film screenings. (Merewether 1977: 70)
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As an extension of these activities the Workers’ Theatre Group was formed in Melbourne with Betty Rolland as its leader (O’Brien 1989: 3). A young lead actor named Catherine Duncan was in the group; she was to join John Heyer at the National Film Board in 1945 (O’Brien 1989: 3). O’Brien provides a different reading of the beginnings of these clubs. She notes that the Worker’s Voice announced in February 1935 that ‘F.O.S.U. [Friends of the Soviet Union] Plans Worker’s Club in New Hall’ indicating that the Group was actually an initiative of the F.O.S.U rather than ‘a direct response’ to the Depression by ‘creative artists’ as Merewether describes. It is planned to make the premises a real club for workers. We have written to various working class papers throughout the world for copies to make an attractive and extensive reading room. We will have chess, draughts, cards, table tennis, and a wireless capable of receiving Russian stations. (Worker’s Voice, quoted in O’Brien 1989: 3) Initially located in Brunswick, Melbourne, the Group produced plays at 104 Queensberry Street, Carlton and at other venues including the Brunswick Town Hall, Kelvin Hall, and Central Hall on Collins Street in Melbourne (O’Brien 1989: 4–6). By 1937 the Worker’s Theatre Group had become the Melbourne New Theatre Club, a name eventually shortened to New Theatre (O’Brien 1989: 8). In the United States by 1934, according to Stuart Cosgrove, the New York publication Workers Theatre, represented 400 Worker’s Theatre groups. The original Worker’s Theatre magazine was re-named New Theatre and, having dropped its ‘class war’ ideology, assumed a Popular Front stance ‘dedicated to the struggle against war, Fascism and censorship’. (Cosgrove 1985: 268) New Theatre was one of the ‘working class papers’ O’Brien refers to. Bob Mathews and Ken Coldicutt are generally credited with the establishment of the Realist Film Unit in 1945 while two others, Gerry Harant and Betty Lacy joined soon after this. Their work was an extension of what the New Theatre had set out to do, and it paralleled similar activities throughout the world. Bob Mathews drifted into the progressive movement through the literature available from the Brunswick office of the Unemployed Workers’ Movement. In a personal interview with the author, Mathews told how, in the early 1930s, the plight of working-class families in the Western and Northern inner suburbs of Melbourne as well as publications like Proletariat, Stream and War What For? that were made available through the Workers’ Club, provided him with a sense of the possibility of political action through ‘the progressive movement’. Mathews recalled the obvious need for change in Australian society and glowing reports of the achievements of the Soviet Union led him to the Workers’ Club, the Workers’ Theatre Group and later the Communist Party of Australia of which he became a member in the late 1930s. The Theatre Group, through its connections with London’s Unity Theatre, imported and produced many one-act plays, such as Clifford Odets’ Till the Day I Die and Waiting for Lefty, and Mathews
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saw his work with the Theatre as political action. In the late 1930s, as the Group evolved into the New Theatre, Mathews moved from acting to producing and directing. Mathews recalls that towards 1945 he ‘wasn’t satisfied with theatre production, and wanted to get closer to reality’. Film seemed a logical medium for this so he bought a 16mm camera. Ken Coldicutt began his political film activity ‘in 1935 by helping the Friends of the Soviet Union with screenings in the suburbs and country of Modern Russia, a compilation based on Soviet newsreels and footage shot by visiting delegates’ (Coldicutt 1982: 62). Later Coldicutt became film manager for the FOSU through which he would have had first-hand experience of the left milieu that included the Workers’ Clubs and the ways that the left were connected to an international network. Merewether writes that the Workers’ Clubs ‘took as their slogan Lenin’s phrase “Art is a weapon”’. Merewether quotes an early Workers’ Club art catalogue explanation of this phrase: ‘In a class-society … the artist finally served as an organizer of his social class. That is the meaning of the Workers’ Art Club slogan … Only in a classless society, under socialism, will art cease to be a weapon and become purely a tool’ (Merewether 1977: 70). Similarly Coldicutt writes ‘I had a dream – to use this powerful medium [cinema] as a weapon against the capitalist system’ (Coldicutt 1982: 62). In the case of the Realist Film Unit and Association there are many forces which shaped this small organization just as they shaped similar organizations in the United States, Europe and Britain. One of these was Soviet film itself. In Film on the Left, William Alexander examines the influence of Sergei Eisenstein on the New York Workers’ Film and Photo League productions. The early Soviet films, in particular those of Eisenstein, became during the 1930s and 1940s the benchmark for left film production. Alexander points out how the Soviet social and cultural experiments such as film were brought to bear on Depression-era America by young, politically committed American film-makers. Their desire to make films, their anger over the Depression, and their contempt for Hollywood spurred them on. And always informing and inspiring them were the successes of the Soviet Union: the October Revolution, full employment and the revolutionary content and techniques of the Soviet cinema. In the United States, as everywhere in the world, their first screenings of Soviet films came as revelations to aspiring filmmakers. (Alexander 1981: 21) The influence of Soviet films was extended by the likes of Harry Allan Potamkin in New York and subsequently Coldicutt in Australia to include the film theories of Soviet film-makers such as Eisenstein and V.I. Pudovkin. Unlike Coldicutt, Potamkin was not a Party member but had met Eisenstein and, according to Alexander, ‘although his interest in Soviet film was purely artistic in the beginning, its influence gradually turned him toward social and political considerations in his film criticism in the late twenties’ (Alexander 1981: 22). While Potamkin could speak and read Russian, Coldicutt relied on the translations into English of Soviet film theory that had been translated and addressed in secondary publications.
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Coldicutt’s earliest encounters with film criticism were through film journals of the 1930s such as Experimental Cinema, Close Up, Film, Film Art, Cinema, Cinema Quarterly, Sight and Sound and New Theatre and Film. These journals enabled Coldicutt to obtain reviews, details of film titles, names of distributors and access to the burgeoning world of writings on film and formed the basis of a large personal library of film theory and criticism. For a while Coldicutt seems to have acquired anything written about film. As a way of displaying the interconnectedness of the English-speaking left through these kinds of publications it is useful to closely examine two articles written by Coldicutt, ‘Turksib: Building a railroad’ and ‘Cinema and capitalism’. Coldicutt’s ideas about cinema, as displayed in these two articles, emanate from the debates about the role of cinema in the early Soviet State and the international left’s embracing of the new Soviet cinema. In translating these ideas to the Australian setting, Coldicutt and the Realist Film Unit/Association brought to the production, screening, distribution and criticism of cinema a theoretical background built on a participation in this international left film culture. ‘Turksib: Building a railroad’ by Coldicutt is one example of the literally thousands of reviews, discussions and criticisms that Coldicutt and his international counterparts wrote for left-wing publications. In Australia publications such as The Guardian and New Theatre Review, as well as the various newsletters, circulars and bulletins produced under the banner of the Realist Film Unit and Association, carried these writings. Coldicutt’s article is the only Australian representation in Lewis Jacobs’ seminal collection of essays The Documentary Tradition (1971). It is unclear how a copy of this article was obtained except for Jacobs’ own statement in his Preface to the original collection. In assembling this collection, I drew almost entirely on material which appeared in newspapers and magazines. Much of it was scattered and difficult to find. Some pieces originated in fugitive, obscure journals, and little magazines long out of print. A few came from privately published pamphlets and from program notes no longer available.2 Coldicutt’s writing is an early example (probably the earliest) of film comment by an Australian on a Soviet production. The article has its theoretical underpinnings in standard formalist ideas as understood by most Anglophone readers through what they had read of Soviet film theory. Turksib is discussed in terms of ‘the control of tempo’ and it is claimed that ‘each part deals with a separate and clearly defined aspect of the subject’, notions which were part and parcel of Soviet and other formalist film theories. Coldicutt’s analysis is broadly structural. He organizes his article according to the film’s five parts and describes what occurs in these parts in interpretive sentences modelled on descriptive accounts such as Eisenstein’s analyses of his own films and Pudovkin’s accounts of many of the films he ‘analyses’ in ‘On film technique’. The notes on Turksib also display a tension within Coldicutt’s approach to documentary. He attends to Grierson’s criticism of Turksib which initially appeared in ‘Summary and survey: 1935’ in The Arts Today: ‘Turksib gave every
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impression of building a railway, but the approach was again too detached to appreciate just how precisely or humanly it was built’. Grierson’s criticism, reprinted in Grierson on Documentary, belongs to a general criticism of Soviet film-makers: There was the brighter cinematic style; there was the important creation of crowd character; but the whole effect was hectic and, in the last resort, romantic. In the first period of revolution the artists had not yet got down, like their neighbours, to themes of honest work; and it is remarkable how, after the first flush of exciting cinema, the Russian talent faded.… Altogether, the Russian directors have been slow in coming to earth. Great artists they are, but alien for the most part to the material they are set. (Grierson 1966: 182) Coldicutt responds by drawing attention to the importance of the film’s form in relation to the practical demands of the recently formed Soviet State. That is, Coldicutt, ignoring what Grierson calls ‘melodrama’, sees the film’s importance as propaganda in relation to its revolutionary value. For Coldicutt the capitalist system is anathema to artistic endeavour and it is only in the service of revolution that the cinematic artist is able to produce worthwhile works of art. Grierson’s ideals for cinema were seen by many people on the left to be in the service of the capitalist state and it may be for this reason that Grierson became the particular target of Coldicutt’s criticism. Coldicutt seems to object to Grierson’s designation of the film’s parts in the English release as ‘acts’ probably because of what he understands to be theatrical (again relying on Eisenstein) rather than cinematic associations. Later Coldicutt describes Grierson’s titling for the English release (performed in consultation with the director) as ‘over-praised’, writing that they ‘are self-consciously literary in tone, and usually redundant – they interrupt the flow of pictorial images and rarely contribute any facts or emotional overtones which are not already evoked by the images’ (Coldicutt 1979: 48). ‘Cinema and capitalism’ written in 1935, the same year the Worker’s Club was founded (and possibly the Turksib review), for the Melbourne University Labour Club’s magazine Proletariat of which he became editor, was his first published article on cinema, providing a useful indication of his primary interests and, in turn, the eventual concerns of the Unit/Association. ‘Cinema and capitalism’ addresses exactly the same issues that, according to Jonathan Buchsbaum, were the principal concerns of left-wing political film organizations in Germany, France, the United States and the United Kingdom during the 1920s and 30s: film distribution, censorship and the criticism of capitalist cinema (Coldicutt 1935: 127). In this article it is also possible to see the importance of H.G. Wells for British left theorists. His writings are melded with English reworkings of the writings and films of Eisenstein and Pudovkin as they were articulated by Close Up contributors Winifred Bryher, Kenneth MacPherson, Ralph Bond and Ivor Montagu. H.G. Wells, Rachel Low tells us, was one of the founder members of The [London] Film Society alongside Julian Huxley, George Bernard Shaw, Ben Webster and G.S. Atkinson (Low 1971: 34).
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The Society was initiated in 1925 in part by Ivor Montagu, for whom Wells wrote some original stories, which in 1928 became three short film comedies, Blue Bottles, The Cure and Daydreams. The following year Wells wrote a film synopsis/novel The King Who Was a King which contained an essay ‘The film, the art form of the future’. Coldicutt explicitly draws on this essay in ‘Cinema and capitalism’ in a section entitled ‘The film is the supreme art’, where he employs a quotation from Wells to further his argument that cinema is a progression from theatre and music. Plainly we have something here that can be raised to parallelism with the greatest musical compositions; we have possibilities of a spectacle equal to any music that has been or can be written, comprehending indeed the completist music as one of its factors. (Wells 1929: 17) Coldicutt incorporates the Soviet adoption of Hegelian/ Marxist dialectical principles particularly those that can be found in Ivor Montagu’s translation Pudovkin on Film Technique, published in 1929, the same year as Wells’ essay. Coldicutt’s closest attention to film theory occurs when he quotes directly from the section in Pudovkin’s book entitled ‘The camera compels the spectator to see as the director wishes’, writing ‘the camera sees with the eyes of a beaten boxer rendered dizzy by a blow’ (Pudovkin 1976: 155). The section entitled ‘The fundamental properties of the film’ is in fact a summary of Pudovkin’s Film Technique. Coldicutt first sets out Pudovkin’s use of Lev Kuleshov’s proposition that ‘in every art there must be firstly a material, and secondly a method of composing this material specially adapted to this art’ (Pudovkin 1976: 166). He then goes on to describe how Kuleshov and Pudovkin had ‘considered the work of American directors, and in particular that of D.W. Griffith’, finishing the paragraph with the sentence ‘thus the director creates a filmic space and filmic time differing from real space and real time’, echoing Pudovkin, ‘the director builds up his own “filmic” time and “filmic” space. He does not adapt reality, but uses it for the creation of a new reality’ (Pudovkin 1976: 89–90). Coldicutt’s citation of Kuleshov via Pudovkin comes from a section in Film Technique entitled ‘Types instead of actors’ which was an address given by Pudovkin to The Film Society subsequently republished in Cinema in 1929. This published address had a major influence on the likes of Coldicutt and regular Close Up contributor Winifred Bryher. This is primarily evident in the influence of the distinction Pudovkin made between ‘entertainment’ and ‘film-art’. I began my work in the films quite accidentally. Up to 1920 I was a chemical engineer, and, to tell you the truth, looked at films with contempt, though I was very fond of art in other forms. I, like many others, could not agree that films were an art. I looked upon them as an inferior substitute for the stage, that is all. Such an attitude is not to be wondered at, considering how rubbishy the films shown at the time were. There are many such films even now; in Germany nowadays they are called Kitsch. Primitive subjects calculated to appeal to the average bad taste – a cheap showman’s booth entertainment that at first gives a good return to the owner, but in the long run demoralises the public.
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The methods applied to the preparation of such films have nothing in common with art. The producers of such films have only one thing in mind, and that is to photograph as many lovely girls faces from as many angles as possible, and to provide the hero with as many victories in fights as possible, and to wind up with an effective kiss as a finale. (Pudovkin 1976: 165–66) In ‘Cinema and Capitalism’ Pudovkin’s words are drawn more explicitly out onto the larger question of the capitalist production of cinema. This is done most obviously in the title of the article where cinema is understood in two conflicting ways. First, cinema is linked to capitalism as Hollywood film. Second, it is separated from capitalism as art. In Coldicutt’s opposition to Hollywood it is possible to see some correlation with two articles that Bryher wrote for Close Up in 1931, ‘The Hollywood code’ and ‘Hollywood code II’. In the first article Bryher directly employs Pudovkin’s word ‘kitsch’ to create a similar opposition to Coldicutt’s, between the critical appreciation of Hollywood films, on the one hand, and of what she considers to be art on the other. Those who are interested in cinema may be divided roughly into two groups: some say that it is movement and light, that what is photographed is unimportant and that it is the way it is done that matters. These minds correspond to the grammarians of literature, and Hollywood with its wealth of technological development has won over this group easily. Logically, however, the group should belong rather with the avant garde of Paris; their ultimate achievement should be in the creation of abstract forms. The second group, while interested in technical development, are concerned with film as a group of units, of which light is one, photography another, the story the third. They require these units to be co-ordinated into expression of an idea or group of ideas. At its highest, in the silent days, this group produced films such as Ten Days, Mother or Turksib. The English cinema student … is forced to concentrate upon technique and gradually his critical perceptions become blunted through a continuous diet of Hollywood patent foods. (Bryher 1931a: 236) This food production line metaphor is taken up by Coldicutt when he writes about Hollywood’s evils including its exploitation of workers where ‘Hollywood has ransacked the world for its “wage laborers”, in the shape of directors, camera-men, technicians, writers, scenarists, composers and actors. And all these wage-laborers are regimented into the production of entertainment commodities for the world’ (Coldicutt 1935: 13). Like Bryher, Coldicutt admits that ‘one is forced to admire the technical proficiency of Hollywood films: the efficient settings, good lighting, camera work …’ and that sometimes there emerge ‘masterpieces such as “Street Scene,” “All Quiet,” “I am a Fugitive”’ (Coldicutt 1935: 14). To conclude her article Bryher envisages Hollywood making Potemkin, echoing Pudovkin.
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Maggots certainly would not have been permitted. Instead we should have opened with a sailor’s bar, with plenty of females in sex-appeal promoting dresses, and a cheerful song. The doctor need be little changed, but he would have had sinister designs upon the heroine who would of course, have survived the perils of the underworld because of her love for an old father-mother-grandparent or young brother-sister-orphan-child at choice, helped by the patent-enamel body paint into which American stars are dipped. (Bryher 1931a: 237) Coldicutt echoes Pudovkin and Bryher in his criticism of the employment of the bourgeois social conventions of the happy ending and the star system. He, however, is not as satirical as Bryher. Whatever the type of film, it must always be modified to reach as wide a market as possible. The melodrama must have comic relief, and the adventure-film a love interest, no matter how irrelevant. A ‘happy ending’ is tacked on to the logical ‘unhappy ending.’ The film must also supply the erotic release rendered necessary by bourgeois social conventions. (Coldicutt 1935: 1913) ‘Cinema and capitalism’ also remains true to prevalent left criticisms of the authenticity of the work of art in the Hollywood system and of the role of the author when Coldicutt decries firstly, ‘the employment of novels, plays and musical comedies’ ‘to supply the ever hungry market’ and secondly, the diminished role of the ‘film artist’ in the capitalist system of production (Coldicutt 1935: 14). For Coldicutt, the film artist’s role as the source of genius is diminished in the capitalist system of production. There is no training for the film-artist under Capitalism. He must discover the principles of his art slowly, by trial and error, instinctively, by rule of thumb. Nor, of course, is he at liberty to make any artistic experiments. The abstract and documentary films must remain unexplored, while he continues to churn out the most obvious kind of narrative film. (Coldicutt 1935: 14) Similarly Bryher writes that ‘Hollywood has no room for the experimental mind. It might destroy the formula’ (Bryher 1931b: 281). Bryher and Coldicutt both employ their criticisms of Hollywood as calls to action. In ‘The Hollywood code II’ Bryher prescribes a solution to the ills that she understands to beset English cinema. ‘The cure is the development of the institution for which Hollywood has no place, the film society which, in tandem with “refusing to visit the commercial kinos”, will contribute to the evolution of an English cinema and, curiously, ‘that would probably make a lot of money’ (Bryher 1931b: 282). But it can come only through being based on thought, on the expression of the problems of the day, and not through elaborate equipment or the repetition of the formula that is
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driving Americans from cinemas throughout the States, and makes the producers look more and more to England as their profitable market. (Bryher 1931b: 282) Coldicutt’s appeal, on the other hand, is to the Melbourne University readers of Proletariat and others to recognize the importance of film study. The facts that filmic expression is dialectical expression, that the film is the most powerful of propaganda media, that it has played a major part in Soviet Socialist construction – these facts demand that the film receives that intense study that has not yet been given to it by Communists outside the U.S.S.R., or by members of the M.U. Labour Club. (Coldicutt 1935: 15) Mirroring the concern expressed in the pages of Close Up and other associated publications such as Ivor Montagu’s 1929 The Political Censorship of Films, Coldicutt, in ‘Cinema and capitalism’, includes censorship as one of the ways in which the criticism of bourgeois society is stifled. Consideration will show that the object of censorship is not primarily the prevention of ‘lascivious’ and ‘immoral’ subjects; but the ruthless suppression of any serious criticism of those mighty bulwarks of bourgeois society: religion, marriage, and the family. (Coldicutt 1935: 14) This article also displays a knowledge of the role that the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) was taking in the 1920s and 1930s in comparison with the Australian situation. Coldicutt begins his article by outlining his ideas about capitalism’s role in ‘throttling’ cinematic expression through the banning and editing of films. He then outlines what he sees as the major problem. It is in regard to political subjects that censorship is seen at its worst. I can do no better than quote from reports of the British Board of Film Censors. The board forbids films dealing with strikes, it forbids ‘stories and scenes which are calculated and possibly intended to ferment social unrest and discontent’; it forbids ‘scenes depicting the forces of order firing on an unarmed populace’; it forbids ‘stories showing any antagonistic or strained relations between white men and the coloured population of the British Empire’ … but there is no need to continue. These quotations, typical also of the attitude of Australian and other censorship authorities, show that the film has been suffering Fascist repression for years. It is not surprising that Capitalism should have enchained so powerful a medium; what is surprising is that it has been allowed to do so without protest from the body of opinion which has ensured some measure of intellectual freedom in literature. (Coldictt 1935: 14) Coldicutt’s writing here unexpectedly displays a great sympathy with the struggles of the British left and film censorship. Yet Coldicutt cannot be as specific about the Australian censorship
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situation. His knowledge of the British situation is gleaned from Close Up’s February 1929 ‘Censorship’ edition, particularly Kenneth MacPherson’s Editorial ‘As Is’, which lists the Board’s guidelines with a critical commentary under headings such as ‘Political’, ‘Social’, ‘Crime’ and ‘Cruelty’. Coldicutt quotes this Editorial. The other contributions to this edition include the journal’s Paris correspondent Jean Lenauer on ‘Censorship in France’ and German correspondent A. Krasna-Krausz’s ‘A letter on censorship’. At this time, however, Coldicutt does not seem to have been aware of the then current debate around Australian censorship, which might have given his article some local pertinence. Unexpectedly, the debates around censorship at this time had directly affected the milieu to which Coldicutt belonged. In Film Censorship in Australia, Ina Bertrand recalls the 1932 banning of the Soviet film The Five Year Plan which was responded to by groups such as the FOSU who ‘presented a petition with ten thousand signatures and Labour politicians initiated and maintained a lengthy debate in the House of representatives’ (Bertrand 1978: 144–45). These events would have been well known to the left community and Coldicutt’s focus on the British situation points to a reliance on authorized overseas film criticism. Later, Coldicutt did monitor the state of film censorship in Australia. In the many reviews and articles he wrote, he pointed to the banning and cutting of imported films. In a 1948 review of Rossellini’s film Open City (1945) in New Theatre Review he appended the following note: ‘There is evidence from publicity stills from the film that Open City is another example of an important film which has been insolently hacked by censorship authorities.’ (Coldicutt 1948: 7) He reported in 1949, in an article entitled ‘Fine films banned’ that ‘the Commonwealth Film Censor is insisting on cuts’ to The Blue Angel (1930), Metropolis (1926) and Dimitri Kirsanov’s French silent, Menilmontant (1924), ‘all of which had already been tampered with’. He noted with approval that the National Library had withheld the films’ release rather than allow them to be cut (Coldicutt 1949: 8). Coldicutt points out that The Blue Angel and Metropolis had already been released – Lang’s film in ‘the silent days’, von Sternberg’s in 1932 at the Majestic in Melbourne – ‘filmgoers will want to know what has happened to make these films now unfit for Australian audiences’ (Coldicutt 1949: 8). Given the problems that Soviet artists were faced with in the 1930s, Coldicutt’s attack on the Hollywood system, as well as the British and Australian censors for somehow being on the opposing side of the creative spectrum relies on a particular decade in the USSR’s film history which produced the montage cinema as well as a lot of wishful thinking. The Soviet cinema displayed a tradition of politically dictated censorship that is often associated with the rise of Stalin. As early as 1928, Peter Kenez asserts, ‘a great deterioration’ in diversity and creative freedom began, ‘the cultural revolution in cinema meant a purge in every film organization and a merciless attack on artistic experimentation in the name of the struggle against “formalism”’ (Kenez 1992: 140). Nevertheless, for Coldicutt, 1935 was a very different period. Censorship of films in the Soviet Union was not censorship because it embodied the will of the great masses of the working class to see only the truth. Coldicutt’s next political venture also relied on this
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notion of the truth-telling qualities of left film as a response to what was understood as the international threat of fascism. In Australians in the Spanish Civil War Amira Inglis describes how in 1937 Coldicutt heard about the phenomenal success in Britain and South Africa of the film Defence of Madrid (1936) made by Ivor Montagu and the Progressive Film Unit (Inglis 1987: 87). In Deadly Parallels Bert Hogenkamp remarks that Defence of Madrid is ‘anything but a masterpiece’, yet its international reputation grew out of the successful fund-raising campaign organized around its screening in Britain (Hogenkamp 1986: 156–57) and, subsequently, Australia. The film’s success also ‘introduced’ Kino, the United Kingdom left film distributor, ‘to the kind of ‘Popular Front’ audiences it had been anxious to reach: constituency Labour clubs, Trade Councils, Clarion clubs etc.’ (Hogenkamp 1986: 157). At this time Coldicutt was contemplating joining the International Brigades to fight the fascists in Spain. Through some Australian contacts in London, Coldicutt imported a copy of the film, which he screened initially at the Kelvin Hall, Melbourne and later in many suburban venues. Admission price was a donation to the Spanish Relief Committee. The importation and screening of Defence of Madrid proved to be a turning point in Coldicutt’s political and professional thinking. He abandoned thoughts of entering the International Brigades, believing that raising money for the Spanish Relief Committee and raising awareness of the war in Spain would be of greater service to the fight against fascism. In a way, he also finally committed himself to Bryher’s solution – the film society – instead of the one he had explicitly advocated – film study. Although the Sydney committee of the Spanish Relief Committee was initially suspicious of the value of film as a propaganda device and of spending further money on importing films, the Melbourne branch was determined to import more films about the struggle in Spain (Merewether 1982: 60). The different attitude of the Sydney branch of the SRC was an early indication of the disregard in which film was held by some left-wing organizations. In 1937 Coldicutt left the FOSU to take up an appointment as national film organizer for the Spanish Relief Committee (Inglis 1987: 91). He convinced the Committee to buy one of the first 16mm sound projectors imported into Australia, and he toured the Melbourne suburbs and the country towns of Victoria with that machine. In early 1937–39, Coldicutt tells us, he set off on a tour of the east coast of Australia which went ‘as far north as Mossman (north of Cairns) and as far south as Hobart’ (Coldicutt 1982: 62). Inglis claims the films were received with much enthusiasm by Italian, Spanish and Yugoslav cane cutters in the north of Australia who donated large amounts of money (Coldicutt 1982: 92). During eight months of screenings, 25,000 people in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland saw the films and Coldicutt travelled 8,851 kilometres raising £500 for the SRC. His efforts are more remarkable when we consider that the tour was done by rail, lugging a 16mm projector, a 56 pound transformer, cans of film, literature and baggage, by himself for months on end in often severe weather conditions (Inglis 1987: 91). These screenings and Coldicutt’s singular vision of political activism was revered by his contemporaries for many decades. At the 1993 opening in Canberra of a memorial to the
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Australians who fought with the International Brigades, Coldicutt was singled out for his contribution to the Spanish Relief Committee. Coldicutt is also said to have made his first film for the cause of Spanish relief. He worked with two other people listed in the Realist Film catalogue only as ‘Black and Piner’, on ‘an eight minute silent newsreel of the International Brigade and volunteer nurses returning to Sydney’ entitled Fighters Return (1939) (Merewether 1982: 60). This film has yet to resurface. Coldicutt’s work for the SRC echoes other moments in cinema history. First, his travelling recalls the Soviet agit-trains that Jay Leyda describes in Kino: a History of the Russian and Soviet Film. Some years prior to the time Coldicutt set out, Alexander Medvedkin had been in charge of a train that travelled to various locales such as Ukrainian collective farms to ‘produce critical films on local conditions’. These included instructional films on topics such as ‘overcoming winter conditions to speed up freight shipments’ as well as what have been called ‘barbed film vaudevilles’ (Leyda 1973: 286–87), a style that Medvedkin put to use in his feature film Happiness (1935). The Soviet trains of this later period, as Leyda points out, included projection facilities, as well as a film laboratory and animation equipment recalling earlier and less sophisticated ‘agit-trains’ of the civil war period of the infant Soviet Union. Those trains had contained leaflet printing machinery and a theatre company as well as camera operators like Edward Tisse, who would film regional events which were sent back to Moscow to be edited by others, such as the young Dziga Vertov (Leyda 1973: 132). In Britain, as Hogenkamp points out, the Left Book Club’s John Lewis, in the light of the success of Defence of Madrid, also proposed a ‘travelling projection unit’: ‘In Left News of March 1937, Lewis specified that these regional organisers “would be in charge of the apparatus, the projector, a car for transport, and the operator”’. (Hogenkamp 1986: 158) It is possible that Coldicutt read about such Soviet and British initiatives and, recognizing the potential agitational effect on a target audience such as the immigrant rural workers, cast himself as an antipodean mirror to Medvedkin and the Left Book Club. Coldicutt was also carrying on a tradition of the touring showman who, Diane Collins points out, was initially the prime moving picture exhibitor for Australian rural areas (Collins 1989: 73). During the first two decades of this century, moving pictures were brought to isolated areas by horse and cart, then motorized truck. In the mid-1950s, the Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit streamlined Coldicutt’s variation on the travelling showman theme when they constructed a mobile screening van. In an interview with John Hughes and Brett Levy, Jock [Jerome] Levy describes the WWFFU’s extension of the activities of film societies. When we were taken over by the Federation (the Federation Office of the Waterside Workers) we had more money and had to get around. We decided that seeing we were part of the Federation that our activities would be to cover everything that happened in Australia with significance to the waterfront. So we had to have some form of transport. We put it to them to buy us a [Volkswagen] Kombi van and we decided this was an
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opportunity. Keith [Gow] worked out the possibilities of having our own alternator, which gave us power and by reversing the screening of the film into a mirror we could project the film inside the van onto a screen (on) the (back) door. While it wasn’t perfect, nevertheless you could show the film in daylight. We could take it around to the various lunch hour groupings on the waterfront and to factory meetings. (Hughes and Levy 1985: 370) Gerry Harant, an Austrian immigrant, whose technical expertise in repairing cameras, projectors and other equipment, allowed the Realist Film Unit/Association to continue its activities on a shoestring budget, has claimed that the design for such a van had originally been his idea but that the initiative was never realized by the Realists due to a lack of funds (Personal Interview). Coldicutt’s experiences with the SRC confirmed his belief in the political efficacy of film. He describes how, during the period 1937–39, he spoke and wrote about the need for a left wing film organisation which, unlike ad hoc bodies such as the Spanish Relief Committee, would develop expertise in film, would not compromise on censorship, would plough back money into more films and equipment, and which would make its own films. (Coldicutt 1982: 62) His work was briefly cut short by the war when he spent three years in New Guinea with the Royal Australian Air Force. Upon his return, Coldicutt heard that Mathews and Ted Cranstone (at the time a photographer with the Works Department and later a Department of Information and Commonwealth Film Unit camera operator) had begun film screenings at the New Theatre at 92 Flinders Street, Melbourne. The New Theatre screenings began as a result of Cranstone informing Mathews that there were prints of Capra’s Why We Fight series available through the United States Information Service. One of these, Battle of Russia (1943), was considered ‘a glowing tribute to the pre-eminent role played by the Soviet Union in the common struggle against fascism. It gives us piquant food for thought today, containing as it does such expressions of admiration and gratitude from prominent Americans’ (Realist Film Association Hire Catalogue 9). It seems as though this film, in particular, was considered, by the Realists, to be worthwhile because of its attempt to ‘show how the unity of the Soviet Peoples, aiding the matchless courage of the Red Army and the Military skill of their leaders, succeeded in defeating the Nazi juggernaut’ (Realist Film Association Hire Catalogue 9). In addition to the tone of this assertion it may be that the film’s ‘drawing upon material from scores of Soviet feature films and documentaries’ proved attractive to the Realists (9). The contribution to the Why We Fight series by people such as Joris Ivens who, a January 1951 Realist Film News claims, ‘was amongst those who worked on the production’ of Battle of Russia may have been another attraction (1). The claim that Ivens ‘worked on the production’ is not strictly correct. It would be more accurate to say that footage shot by Ivens was employed in the film. Erik Barnouw points out that Frank Capra’s Why We Fight films were without personal credits although ‘[s]elected fragments came from newsreels
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of practically all nations, from documentaries of Hippler, Ivens, Jennings, Riefenstahl, Varlamov, Watt, and others — and from fiction films’ (Barnouw 1983: 160). The Realist’s emphasizing of Ivens name in relation to The Battle of Russia reads like a deliberate ‘radicalizing’ of this US propaganda film. Because of Mathews’ connections, the obvious place to screen these films was at the New Theatre. These screenings eventually led to the beginnings of the Realist Film Unit. Mathews recalls the vitality and, in particular the knowledge of cinema that Coldicutt brought with him. I didn’t know Ken Coldicutt at this time. Ken soon heard that we were screening films. Ken turned up and discussed all the other possibilities that we didn’t know about. He knew that there was a copy of Ten Days that Shook the World [October] around. Ken was absolutely in love with film and showing films. I believe that every time he showed a film he enjoyed it again with the audience and he got that sensual audience contact this way, the reward of any form of theatre. (Personal Interview) These ‘other possibilities’ were the production and screening of agitational film under the banner of the Realist Film Unit, which was formed towards the end of 1945. Another member of the Realist Film Unit provided a link not only between the Realists and the larger film community but also between authorized governmental film distribution in the form of the [Victorian] State Film Centre and the larger international realm of film distribution. Betty Lacey (later Coldicutt) began her work within infant Melbourne film culture as one of the initiators of the Melbourne University Film Society. In 1948 upon the rejection of her proposal to write her thesis for a Diploma of Education on the use of film in education, Lacey joined the Realists. This was also the year Lacey was first employed as the Victorian State Film Centre’s librarian and was put in charge of ordering many of the films that formed the basis of the Centre’s documentary and feature film collection. Lacey gleaned her knowledge of cinema through the very same publications that Coldicutt did. In that same year the first meeting of the Melbourne University Film Society Committee recorded that ‘very few people knew much about documentaries’ and that they should ask Betty Lacey and Mr W. Clemens ‘to draw up a programme of documentaries over the long vacation’. Lacey wrote reports on the Centre’s activities in Australian publications such as Film Monthly and Film Guide. She became involved in the organization and running of the New Theatre screenings and assisted in the Realists’ filming of May Day marches in 1948–50. The production component of the Unit grew out of a combination of Coldicutt’s belief in the agitational value of screening films and Mathews’ wish to extend his work in the New Theatre into the realm of film-making. The making of films proved the more difficult of the Unit’s activities due to the expense of film stock. Coldicutt’s filming of footage for Fighters Return before the Unit began activities and Mathews’ experience and connections through the New Theatre must also have been valuable components.
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Three film works produced by the Realist Film Unit, A Place to Live (1946), In My Beginning (1947) and Prices and the People (1948) display the common formal and ideological concerns of the international left. A closer examination of these productions makes apparent these concerns while recalling films made by earlier left film groups. In the Realist Film Association Hire Catalogue, A Place to Live is credited to R. Mathews, K.J. Coldicutt and J. Fitzsimons (7). It is basically a film about housing contrasts in Melbourne in the late 1940s, but it also attempts to subvert the then common newsreel format. The film consists of six sequences organized to demonstrate the differing living conditions of working-class and middle-class residents of Melbourne in the immediate post-war period. The film begins with a shot of metropolitan Melbourne followed by the intertitle ‘Melbourne – Financial Centre of Australia’, a series of six static shots of the city then appear which are followed in turn by an image of crowds at Flinders Street station and another crowd shot onto which are superimposed a series of statistics; ‘1947 90,000 Victorian Families Homeless, 1948 96,000 Victorian families Homeless’, in sequence, until the final part of the sequence with the intertitle ‘1950 108,000 Victorian Families Homeless’. These statistics are projections of how the problem of homelessness would continue to escalate in the five years following the film’s production. A Place to Live adopts the simple strategy of employing images of housing in contrast. The intertitle ‘Homeless – but not so the owners of industry’ leads into a sequence of ten static shots of large houses and apartments. This is followed by an intertitle ‘Workers – the producers of wealth, builders of those houses, live cross the river’ and a long sequence of smaller houses, streetscapes, backyards, fences and interiors in the working-class suburbs of Collingwood, Fitzroy and South Melbourne. The next sequence includes images of children playing in the street, introduced by the intertitle ‘Playgrounds for worker’s children’ and images of traffic taken from a low angle, presumably a child’s point of view, followed by images of young children being put to bed in slum conditions. The following sequence commences with images of tradesmen’s entrances to the large houses including the entrance to one of Victoria’s well-known estates, Burnham Beeches, followed by the intertitle ‘Country homes for the evicted’ and images of families camping out in rural areas. The film closes with some medium close-up shots of children seated in the urban setting. The film evokes the geography of the city of Melbourne, with the river Yarra acting as the divide between rich and poor. In the 1940s the majority of Melbourne’s industry was located north of the river Yarra, with the houses of workers among the factories, while immediately south of the Yarra were the city’s wealthier suburbs. A Place to Live recalls a tradition of documentaries on housing conditions. One of the most famous of these is Edgar Anstey and Arthur Elton’s Housing Problems (1935) (made, coincidentally, under the umbrella of the Realist Film Unit in Britain). Others include Joris Ivens’ Misère au Borinage (1933) and Henri Storck’s Les Maisons de la Misère (1937). Housing Problems is, in contrast to these others, a commercial film where the sponsorship of the gas industry limited the critical edge apparent in films such as the Realists’ so that it concluded with images of the housing estates which are to replace the slums. Coincidentally, some of the slum residencies that are documented in A Place to Live were also replaced with Housing Commission
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high-rise flats very much like those proposed in Housing Problems. Another filmic model popular on the left at this time was Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke’s The City (1939) which employs images of urban housing conditions and children playing in gutters and rubbish dumps which contrast with the utopian semi-suburban (and bourgeois) ideal of planned housing. A Place to Live also belongs to a body of films about housing conditions that were made in Melbourne at this time. In the late 1940s the charitable religious organisation, the Brotherhood of St Laurence embarked on a campaign of agitation for better social conditions in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, in particular Fitzroy, where the Brotherhood is based. This campaign employed three films: Gaol Does Not Cure (1946), Beautiful Melbourne (1947) and These are Our Children (1947). The first was made by J.G. Fitzsimons, a member of Melbourne’s close-knit progressive community, as an argument for the work of the Brotherhood in rehabilitating chronic alcoholics. The second two also involved the work of Realist members. These films were made without soundtracks for financial reasons, and also so that the Brotherhood’s Father Tucker could provide ‘live’ spoken commentary. Apparently all three were usually shown in one programme, as The Curse of the Slums. It also seems, according to then Brotherhood volunteer Norman Haynes, that these films were taken on tour through the suburbs to church groups and other associations with others providing a commentary (Personal Interview). The films were shown as far from Melbourne as the local cinema in the Victorian Western District town of Terang where they apparently attracted a few hundred people. As we have seen this kind of hands-on distribution/exhibition was not uncommon in Australia or elsewhere. The Sun News Pictorial of June 1947 under the heading ‘Film that shocked’ contains some of Father Tucker’s commentary. I wish we could reproduce the smells as well as the sights. They are really shocking. Here, in houses condemned 10 years ago, thousands of little children are doomed. This is the breeding ground of criminals, invalids and insane. Why don’t you realise that it is stupid to be spending money on improving our gaols, hospitals and asylums without rooting out the slums which make them necessary? … Mr. Calwell says we need more children. Watch those children. What hope is there for children here? (14) In a 1947 article for the Victorian Amateur Cine Society journal Victorian Movie Makers, Jack Fitzsimons, who is credited with working on A Place to Live, writes that he suggested to Brotherhood volunteer and friend Don Wilding that the films Gaol Does Not Cure, Beautiful Melbourne and These are Our Children be made (Fitzsimons 1947: 74). Fitzsimons had previously made 8mm home movies and was a member of the Society at the time. An article entitled ‘Organised enthusiasts’ explains that the VACS was set up in 1936 and its members used 8mm, 9.5 and 16mm equipment. The society was for amateur film-makers who could screen their films ‘to demonstrate what can be and what is being done by members’ (1950: 26). That Fitzsimons, although not officially a Realist Film Unit member or Communist Party member, made similar advocacy films with the full support of the Brotherhood of St Laurence indicates the slipperiness of the notion ‘left film-making’. Fitzsimons won the Cine Society’s
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1946 Members Cup for Gaol Does Not Cure, his first major film. Apparently he then made a film called The Coolibah Club on the Brotherhood’s club for elderly men. This was followed by a film like The City about The Carrum Downes Settlement, a housing experiment by the Brotherhood where families were invited to live in clean air and ‘pleasant surroundings’ (Fitzsimons 1947: 74). It seems that at present this film is lost. Beautiful Melbourne followed. The titles for Beautiful Melbourne (1947) credit Fitzsimons with producing and shooting the film. Fitzsimons describes some of the difficulties of shooting. Many places could not be filmed because of the absence of electric current for the photofloods. However, I managed to film one house by taking a long lead down the street from a nearby house that was supplied with electricity. In one place which was verminous (I had previously put D.D.T. in my socks and trouser cuffs and pulled the socks over the cuffs) the heat from the photofloods brought out the bugs, which I filmed in close ups. (Fitzsimons 1947: 74) The most striking thing about Beautiful Melbourne is how much it is like A Place to Live. It contains much of the same footage. The previously mentioned low-angle shots of traffic, a Merchant Navy flag on an interior wall, the children playing in the street, a shot of an elderly man entering a dwelling on the corner of King William Street in Fitzroy and the image of a street of worker’s houses with the Shrine of Remembrance in the distance occur in both films. Some images appear in Beautiful Melbourne as shots from A Place to Live reversed (right to left).3 These include exterior long shots of buildings in Fitzroy, images of backyards and most noticeably shots of a child walking down a hallway brushing a teddy bear against a wall and another child being put into a cot. Although there is no direct testimony to this, one likely scenario for the similarity of the films is that the film-makers exchanged footage. Bob Mathews remembers shooting some footage in the home of a merchant seaman in South Melbourne, a suburb that can be recognized in both A Place to Live and Beautiful Melbourne through the final image of the Shrine of Remembrance. The inclusion of Fitzsimons’ name in the credits for A Place to Live in the Realist Film Association Hire Catalogue indicates the employment of his footage in a Realist production. While both films contain some of the same footage, their arguments are posed differently. While A Place to Live roughly adheres to the Soviet montage practice by contrasting images of Melbourne accompanied by assertive intertitles, Beautiful Melbourne has only one sequence where it departs from imaging slum living. The film’s one sequence of images of middle-class life begins with shots of affluent, but not pretentious, suburban houses, (not the mansions in A Place to Live) introducing us to two blonde children playing the piano, eating at a lace-covered dining table, bathing in bright, clean surroundings, and drinking a glass of milk in bed. A Place to Live was planned as a film to be screened alone and therefore relies on dialectical editing to articulate its argument while Beautiful Melbourne was to be employed in conjunction with Tucker’s direct address providing its argument.
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These Are Our Children (1947) provides a fictional variation on the theme of the earlier two films. John and Molly Bradeley are caught housebreaking and the film, relying on slum images of Fitzroy, where the two siblings live, attributes their crime to their living conditions. The film argues that the sequence which opens the film, where John, with Molly acting as lookout, forces a window and steals some money, is a result of overcrowding, lack of adequate food, and repetitive factory work. These conditions are shown to lead to boredom, inadequate income to enjoy leisure activities such as going to the cinema, and even to Molly’s injuring herself by falling down the stairs of the house. This lifestyle is contrasted, in a sequence that oddly prolongs the thematic contrast we have seen before, to a game of cricket at Scotch College, a private boy’s school, girls playing tennis and images of young teenagers climbing trees in bright, sunfilled settings. Although these films do not attempt the complex montage of Eisenstein, all of them ultimately do set out to adopt the simple ‘dialectical’ principle of putting two ideas in conflict with each other. Coldicutt had written a description of what the films would do in ‘Cinema and capitalism’. By the process of editing or montage, the dynamic images of the film are juxtaposed and made to reinforce and to conflict with each other. In this way tremendous intensification and compression are achieved … the dialectical materialist, who gives even a cursory consideration to the properties of cinema is led inescapably to the conclusion that in it we have at last a completely dialectical form of expression, and hence the supreme form of expression. (Coldicutt 1935: 11) Coldicutt’s words here suggest the lack of sophistication apparent in the Unit and Brotherhood’s films. However these films are surely among the first oppositional motion pictures made in this country. Testifying to the growth of an international left film culture especially after the Second World War, the films are also evidence of what many progressives thought was formally (as well as ideologically) progressive and what was appropriate film propaganda. In their time, the Brotherhood films created much furore when the middle-class audiences that the urban missionary group targeted reacted to what they saw in such a way that the daily newspapers took it upon themselves to call for immediate action on the problem of inner-city slums. In 1947 articles such as ‘Melbourne’s slums must go’ in The Sun and ‘Cries of ‘shame’ greet film of slums’ in The Argus display the concern generated by the press. The strongest response to the films appeared in The Herald in an article entitled ‘Newspapers’ duty to tell of slums, says councillor’ which reports on the controversy created by the films and the work of Father Tucker. The newspaper takes credit on itself for bringing the ‘plight of slum dwellers to the notice of public men’ but the article also refers to the pressure placed on the State Minister for Housing Mr Barry who is reported to have responded to the films with the remark that ‘much of the newspaper talk on slums is so much twaddle’ (1947: 17). This remark, it seems, led to submissions from inner-city councils on the appalling conditions that existed at the time. In this respect the films had the desired impact, and their apparent success confirmed their makers’ belief in the efficacy of the medium.
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The repetition of a class-determined typology of images in These are Our Children and of specific images in A Place to Live and Beautiful Melbourne is very suggestive. The Realists seemed to have relied on a certain ‘type’ of image to represent the working class while the images used to represent the ‘upper class’ are distinct in each of these films. In all the films there are images of a range of working-class people, but the representation of middle-class people is confined to domestic images of children in Beautiful Melbourne. Acquiring representative footage of working-class life was, according to Bob Mathews, a primary concern of the Unit, which he says was given some impetus by a suggestion from Joris Ivens in 1946. Although it is most likely that reusing footage was due to budgetary constraints, there may be some connection with these films and the commencement of the filming of May Day Marches in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1950. According to Mathews, [Ivens] had a concept which he hoped we’d be able to make work, that is, in every country, there’d be somebody shooting important incidents in working-class life. All this material would be centrally available for Joris and others to put into some international working class coverage – a library of material that wouldn’t normally be shot by the newsreel companies. I talked to the others about this, so we went on shooting events as they occurred if we thought they were going to be spectacular or important. (Personal Interview) Although the Realist films I have been discussing up to this stage were recordings of working class ‘conditions’ the shift in emphasis that occurred at around this time was toward the public performance of working class ‘identity’, that is, the marches that were filmed. Ivens’s suggestion, as Mathews relates it, is taken up in the pages of a circular put out by the Realist Film Association in 1951. Entitled ‘The proposal to set up an International Film Bureau’ the circular reads like a local response to Ivens’s particular ideas but may also have been an international initiative of the 1950s by the Communist Party. In any case the idea of the ‘Bureau’ belonged to a series of shifts that saw the Realist Film Association recasting itself as a kind of research centre. It was envisaged that the Bureau would ‘establish a library of stock-shots that can be used by affiliated organisations’, and that, in addition, it ‘should publish regularly, in a number of languages a magazine’ [that would] ‘commission film-workers to write articles especially for publication in this magazine’ and ‘reprint good articles from other publications that are not so readily available’. The circular also states that the bureau should be involved in the distribution and exhibition of films and concludes with a lengthy section on the ‘study of films’ which outlines ideas about setting up classes, involving ‘film practitioners’ in writing material for study, building a library, ‘organising international film festivals and international congresses of film-workers’, as well as, again, the addressing of censorship. The Bureau should arrange its own resources and through those of its affiliates, the dissemination of information which will assist in the fighting of campaigns against censorship of films, on such issues as the gaoling of the Hollywood Ten, against staged and faked newsreels, against the screening (or production) of warmongering, fascistic, anti-semitic, and chauvinistic films, and any other issues that arise from time to time. (4)
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Again there are definite parallels between the project outlined in the Realists ‘Proposal’ and the activities of the New York Workers’ Film and Photo League. One difference was that the Realists in Melbourne and the Workers’ Film Movement in London turned to Eisenstein specifically, while in New York it was Esther Shub’s Cannons or Tractors (also known as Today) (1930) which, according to Alexander, provided the most influential model (Alexander 1981: 27). Shub’s compilation films were the inspiration for the films produced by the Workers’ Film and Photo League: radical newsreels, employing found footage together with footage taken by various members. While Shub directly provided a model for the New York left, it was Ivens, an international hero for the left, familiar with Shub’s work, whose films were the height of left cultural production for the Realists. Like Shub, Ivens began his film work re-editing newsreel footage for political purposes. Joris Ivens … and his friends combated the newsreels otherwise unchallenged power by borrowing some from Amsterdam and Antwerp theatres on Saturday night, recutting them the whole night to alter their class character, showing them Sunday to a workingclass audience, restoring them to their original state that night and returning them politely on Monday. (Leyda 1964: 28) Jay Leyda also mentions that the Berlin Workers’ Film Society in 1928 had taken the same approach as a way of employing UFA newsreels that had been passed by the censor but could be re-edited to give them a satirical edge. Leyda comments that these events were ‘no more than the excrescence of an interest in the power of the film-editor that was accepted by the film-intelligentsia … since the first shock of Potemkin’ (Leyda 1964: 29). Ivens’s strategy, although much more provocative than the Realists, foreshadows not only the interest in editing that Coldicutt had written about, but also illustrates the left’s relationship to the ‘official’ newsreel. The next major production of the Realist Film Unit was another sponsored production, In My Beginning (1947), a colour sound film funded by the Koornong School in Warrandyte, Victoria. Produced to promote awareness of the school’s activities, in particular its cooperative approach to school management, the film illustrates the traditional left ideal of collective action and again deploys the rural ideal which provides a response to the problems depicted in A Place to Live and These are Our Children. Scenes include the collective building of the school, a meeting of the school’s ‘bully committee’ to discuss students’ problems, and various activities where the emphasis is on groups of people working together. The school is located in what was a rural landscape outside Melbourne and the film shows exercise, learning and craft work in this locale as particularly wholesome activities. Prices and the People was produced in 1948 as an agitational/ propaganda film to coincide with a 1948 Federal Referendum on whether to retain the price controls implemented during the war years. The film can be seen as a working-class reading of capitalism as well as, more
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specifically, a call for a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum. It displays the same kinds of repetition apparent in the earlier productions. There is the same typology of working-class people in the street images and the repetition of an entire scene from A Place to Live where a man walks toward a bungalow and places a small paper bag on a table. In Prices and the People this scene is extended as the man is introduced as a character by the voice-over narration when we see him in medium shot rolling a cigarette, an image not included in the earlier film. Here’s one of the most helpless victims of inflated prices. The old-age pensioner. [Close-up of hands rolling a cigarette] Those hands helped to build this country. Its roads, its homes, its towns, its vital industry. And after a lifetime of hard work he gets 42/6 pence a week to live on. Old age needs leisure, warmth, the right kinds of food and at least a few comforts. [Man walks towards bungalow and enters] No warmth here, uncomfortable and nasty but it’s cheap. That’s what counts when you’re living on 42/6 a week. [Man places bag on table] Two eggs. At threepence each? Must be pension day. [Man puts out cigarette] Save that butt, old timer. Tobacco’s 1/6 an ounce. That’s what the price people think necessary to yield a fair profit to the tobacco monopoly. The image of the butting out of the cigarette is absent from A Place to Live yet this whole sequence appears to have been shot for the earlier film. Prices and the People also includes a shot of a woman pushing a pram which is a flipped image from A Place to Live. Prices and the People also uses the same general contrasting of working-class environs with that of middle-class houses. Prices and the People employs acted caricatures of a business man and a worker. The businessman’s large cigar-smoking figure is seated in a cosy arm-chair with a glass of port-wine beside him framed against liquor bottles. The worker is slightly built and imaged sitting and eating off a wooden box in candlelight in an otherwise empty room. The businessman is asked ‘What’s your opinion of high prices?’ to which he replies ‘High prices? High costs, lack of production. The people are too flabby, they don’t work hard enough. I’m not making too much. Business is bad. Price control is killing initiative. No incentive for private enterprise. I’m getting poorer and poorer’. The worker does not speak. The narrator speaks for him. ‘Let’s take a look at the average worker leading an average life. He’s sitting on a box in an unfurnished room eating tinned salmon by candlelight. He can only buy one pair of pyjamas every three years on the basic wage. No wonder they’re patched. But the three years are nearly up. He’ll be getting a new pair soon!’ To this last comment the worker grasps his hands in an expression of thanks. The film also includes sketches by Noel Counihan that recall the statistics presented in A Place to Live. He draws two ‘fat capitalists’. On the belly of one he writes 1939 £357m and on the other 1946 £500m to represent what the narrator calls ‘the profits of business … despite price control’. The acting, scripting and editing of Prices and the People display a certain selfreflexivity and didactic staginess, willing to parody its own seriousness in conveying the importance of its topic. Despite these ‘livelier’, and possibly more accessible characteristics, the film was the last, apart from the recording of marches, to be made by the Unit.
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The production of Prices and the People virtually signalled the end of the Realist Film Unit and the birth of the Realist Film Association. This name change signalled a shift in focus for the organization. The Australian Communist Party is said to have agreed to reimburse the Unit for the cost of having six prints of the Prices and the People struck by Associated Film Printers in Sydney. Prints were then to be sent to the other states as a propaganda initiative. Gerry Harant recalls that the Party’s failure to repay the Unit for printing costs meant that the Unit found itself in greater financial difficulty and decided to focus on the screening of films and the cultivation of the film society movement. However financial considerations were not the only reason for what seems to be a shift in emphasis rather than a substantial change of orientation. Coldicutt writes in words that don’t really clarify the distinction between the organizations after 1948, ‘Since the Realist Film Unit could not be continued as a film production unit, we merged it with Realist Film Association, an organisation based on the many supporters we had gathered around us in our three years of work, and with membership open to the public’ (Coldicutt 1982: 63). The screenings of the Realist Film Association were the most visible form of agitational work they undertook and constituted an important stronghold of left oppositional cinema. Some of the films screened were educational documentaries from the Soviet Union. These screenings provided one focus for the burgeoning film society movement in general as well as extending the range of the ‘foreign’ films available at The Savoy and The Australia in Melbourne, which were commercial alternatives to the cinemas that relied on Hollywood and the newly revitalised British cinema. The Association regularly screened films on Sundays or over a weekend when the New Theatre was not performing. The screenings presented a variety of films from Battleship Potemkin and Earth to Metropolis, The Blue Angel and Chaplin shorts, as well as documentaries like Grass, The Valley of the Tennessee, The City and Cecil Holmes’s Fighting Back (1948). As well as the screenings at New Theatre, the Realist Film Association screened films at union meetings, factory sites and in the streets. In a 1947 article entitled ‘Film shown in Richmond Street’ The Guardian reported that the Unit projected A Place to Live onto a screen hung from the outside wall of a pickle factory in Dover Street, Richmond ‘to assist the campaign of the Richmond Branch of the Australian Communist Party for improved housing’ (7). A large number of screenings also took place in more conventional public meeting venues such as Assembly Hall, Nicholas Hall, Australia Soviet House, Kelvin Hall and others. Gerry Harant recalls that the per annum attendance figures in those days were around 10,000. The screening of films in workplaces and for communities as well as the production of films, provided a source of tension between the Association and the ACP. Gerry Harant recalls that the Party had little understanding of the value that film could have for the progressive movement. As far as most of the Party organizations and indeed the unions were concerned, they were interested in the sort of screening services we were providing, largely on the basis
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that it would attract people to the meetings. So they wouldn’t want a film on the subject they were discussing, even though that film may have been 1000 times better than the speaker they had along. They wanted a Charlie Chaplin, and we found this extremely difficult to cope with. For instance, when Indonesia Calling was made, we organized a special screening for Trade Union leaders because we thought it was a very important film.… For that screening there were two people in the audience at New Theatre. This was the problem. The Communist Party was woefully inadequate in its understanding of the importance of media, which is interesting because the right wing fascists were totally aware of the importance of media. When the Party was threatened by the Menzies referendum campaign  we got into terrible strife because we were screening films that showed the importance of civil liberties and they said that we were wasting our time when we could have been shoving leaflets into letterboxes. (Personal Interview) These words recall the differing attitudes of the Sydney and Melbourne Spanish Relief Committees to film as propaganda in the 1930s. Despite Lenin’s supposed assertions that film was the most important of the arts ‘for us’, not all left groups thought that film was a valuable propaganda weapon. Tensions between the Party and the Realists came to a head in a dispute over Mikhail Chiaureli’s two-part Soviet documentary feature, The Fall of Berlin (1949). Richard Taylor claims that the portrayal of Stalin in Chiaureli’s films The Great Dawn (1938), The Vow (1946) and The Fall of Berlin were the ‘apotheosis of the Stalin cult in film’ and ‘no words can adequately describe the full effects of these films: they quite literally have to be seen to be believed’ (Taylor 1993: 88). Ian Christie describes The Fall of Berlin as ‘an apotheosis which transcends mere propaganda and (on the basis of a recent screening) testifies to the blazing counter-factual conviction of all concerned’ (Christie 1993: 166). In recalling the relationship between the Association and the Party, Coldicutt, outlines a complex situation for which The Fall of Berlin became the catalyst. We developed Marxist criticism of films, including Soviet productions, but usually failed to get publication in the Party press. A notable case was the discussion we organised on the Soviet block-buster, The Fall of Berlin. We advertised this discussion in the Guardian for some weeks in advance, and we succeeded in getting a Guardian reporter to attend, but we did not succeed in getting any word of the discussion into the Guardian. We raised this matter with Party leaders in Melbourne, at the same time reminding them that, after a round of discussions twelve months before, they had promised that the Party would pay its debts [for the prints of Prices and the People] to Realist, that Party branches and left trade unions would be persuaded to use our services, that the Guardian would devote a double-page spread to our activities, and that we should be given a weekly section in the Guardian for film news and criticism. Reminded that none of these promises had been kept, the leadership now proposed another round of talks and suggested that I should go into industry — the standard panacea for disaffected intellectuals! I was not prepared to waste further time on people who used words as a substitute for action. I
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resigned from the Party and a few weeks later gave notice of my intention to resign as secretary of Realist Film Association. (Coldicutt 1982: 63) In 1956, five years after Coldicutt had resigned from the Party and the Realist Film Association he was invited by the Party to attend a meeting ‘to discuss Krushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’. I pointed out that Krushchev had singled out as a prime example of the cult of the individual, the film Fall of Berlin, the very film we in the Realist Film Association in 1951 had criticised as failing to serve the cause of peace or socialism. By applying a Marxist approach to such films, we had pointed to the growth of a new exploiting class in the Soviet Union. I said that Krushchev and his comrades represented that class and that they were simply using anti-Stalinism to shift the responsibility from themselves. (Coldicutt 1982: 63–64) The problem for the Realists, as Coldicutt wants us to see it, was that the film depicted Joseph Stalin welcoming Soviet troops into Berlin when it was common knowledge that Stalin was in Moscow at the time. That is, the film lied. This saga indicates his growing disaffection with the Soviet regime and in particular its use of film. It may also point to the Association’s particular sense of how film should represent and operate politically. Although propaganda initiatives were part and parcel of the Realist’s activities, the lie perpetrated by The Fall of Berlin seemed to Coldicutt and his supporters to constitute a shift in principle by which the Soviet state had (rather suddenly) discarded the spirit of Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Dovzhenko for the aggrandizement of Stalin. Yet Coldicutt’s criticism of Chiaureli’s film is also associated with a shift in international Communist politics. After all, the ‘lie’ of Chiaureli’s film was no worse than a thousand others that had been let go by before. Not only was The Fall of Berlin a ‘lie’ in terms of its representation of historical events, it provided material evidence of a larger lie of Stalinism that people such as Coldicutt could address directly. Given Taylor and Christie’s assessments of these films, in particular The Fall of Berlin, it is possible to understand Coldicutt’s remarks as an indication of a shift in his vision of the USSR and the Party which was shared by many Communists throughout the world in the immediate post-war period. Coldicutt’s identification of a new ‘exploiting class’ in the Soviet Union seems to emanate from a general international conception of what ‘Stalinism’ was understood to be in the immediate post-war period. Stalinism, as it was represented in films such as Chiaurelli’s, emerged in the post-war period as the embodiment of ‘greatness’. Leszek Kolakowski writes that Stalin ‘was shown in films to be a tall, handsome man, considerably taller than Lenin’, and was depicted as a ‘philosopher, theoretician, statesman, strategist, economist etc’ (Kolakowski 1978: 148). However, it seems that in the post-war period Stalin for people like Coldicutt, called into question the relationship between what had always been a dictatorship of the proletariat and the kind of political figure that Stalin represented.
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Stalin, the embodiment of the ruling class and of the state which had made itself virtually independent of society,… called into being a new bureaucratic caste independent of the organic divisions of society, and freed it from all subservience to the people as a whole, the working class, or, finally the party’s inherited ideology. (Kolakowski 1978: 159) Coldicutt’s denunciation of Stalinism via the saga of The Fall of Berlin was eventually projected onto the Krushchev era, while he maintained his nostalgia for the prewar period. In this manner Coldicutt is performing less of a film critique based on textual analysis than citing a notorious instance in the films of the period. This ‘departure’ from the Party is visible in earlier Realist initiatives. Although the Realists recognized the importance of some traditional methods of agitation (The Guardian was distributed at Realist screenings), their intention was to break with such Party directed practices as placing paid advertisements in newspapers and holding small scale meetings without procuring an audience. Harant points out that the street screenings were a part of an attempt by the Realists to break this mould of traditional Party practices (Personal Correspondence). A strong indication of these new and imaginative approaches to communist cultural work was the previously mentioned mobile screening van, eventually adopted by the Sydney-based Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit. A major role performed by Coldicutt and the Realist Film Association was the education of audiences in the critical appreciation of the film medium. Coldicutt’s self-education in film theory and criticism provided a focal point for the theoretical discussion sessions that were held. Some of these discussions occurred at New Theatre but others took place at member’s houses (Realist Film News October 1950). One general title for such a series was ‘The dialectics of cinema’. Sessions ranged from discussions of ‘Eisenstein’s thesis that the principle of montage can be found in the creative process in all the arts’, to ‘the technique of the Maya Deren films’. Other topics included ‘the films of Roberto Rossellini’, ‘post-war French films seen in Melbourne’ and ‘the origins and development of cinema from the technical, economic, and social points of view’. These discussion groups provided audiences with the opportunity to fuel critical debate among members and visitors and to engage with film theory decades before it was embraced by the academy. Unlike some of their international predecessors, the Realists’ organization from its beginnings in 1945 engaged in both exhibition and production. However, the activities that many consider the most significant film cultural role played by the Realist Film Association was the propagation of the film society movement in Australia – an initiative that we have seen may have been derived from the writing of Winifred Bryher. While the newly formed Victorian State Film Centre had a similar agenda, the Realists focused on informing various groups as to the way to set up and run a film society. The groundswell in Australian film culture that was the infant film society movement in the late 1940s and early 1950s depended strongly on the work of the Realists. The Association’s catalogue lists the
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services it provided to groups including hiring 16mm and 35mm films and projectors, information regarding sources of films in Australia and overseas, ‘printed and illustrated programs for some films’ and access to a ‘reference library: books, magazines and periodicals dealing with the history, technique, and economics of cinema throughout the world – the largest and most comprehensive library of film literature in Australia’ (2). This ‘library’ was also known as The Arts Bookshop, and it operated out of the foyer of the New Theatre supplying periodicals, books and other materials often imported for a specialized audience. A December 1949 Realist Film Association Circular provides a list of publications available. These range from back issues of the by then defunct Close Up to Eisenstein’s recently published The Film Sense, Roger Manvell’s Film and Experiment in the Film, H.H. Wollenberg’s Fifty Years of German Film, and Dickinson and de la Roche’s Soviet Cinema (1948). As well as these titles, the bookshop also made available the program notes that Coldicutt had written for the initial screenings by the Realists. The Realist’s cultivation of a seed-bed of film activity accompanied that of the fledgling State Film Centre, but if the efforts of the Realists are seen in the light of their policy of film as an oppositional force for change in society, a political agenda, it is possible to clarify the distinction. It may be possible to understand the Realists in opposition to the Centre, an institution of government. The combination of Betty Lacey’s position at the State Film Centre and her membership in the Realist Film Association was not viewed favourably by members of State Parliament caught up in the Red scare that had emerged in post-war Australia. These parliamentarians were suspicious of the Soviet films held by the Centre, leading to attempts to stifle the importing of such films and to stop the activities of the Realists. These attempts included the introduction of a Cinematograph Films Bill into State Parliament on the 16 June 1948 and attempts to impose restrictions on the State Film Centre. The Realists saw the Cinematograph Films Bill as an action to block the by now very successful screening activities of the Realist Film Association. The Bill was understood by the Realists, in their circular entitled Information on the Restrictions Imposed on the State Film Centres and on the State Government’s Cinematograph Films Bill to have proposed three major changes which would affect film exhibition. First, the term ‘theatre’ would be given a broader meaning. In earlier Acts the ‘provisions state that no person shall exhibit any film in a theatre unless it has been approved by the censor’ (2). In the proposed amendment the term theatre was to have included all film screenings ‘in connection with which any collection is taken up’ (2). The Realists, in another circular entitled Cinematograph Films Bill: What it Means, asserted that this amendment directly affected the burgeoning film society movement’s use of 16mm film (1948). It clearly would have affected the Realists’ own screenings. Second, the Bill’s amendments would make it necessary for all organizations screening films and collecting any monies to register with the State government, as exhibitors. Although no direct mention is made of the possibility of the denial of an exhibition licence, the Bill’s amendments do not rule out this possibility. The Realists believed that they would be denied such a licence because of their oppositional political stance.
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Third, the Bill was to ‘give the State censor power to over-ride a favourable decision’ of the Commonwealth censor (2). The Realists considered this a doubling of the chances of the films they screened or produced being subject to censorship. The Cinematograph Films Bill also introduced restrictions to be imposed on the State Film Centre which, in the main, were designed to prevent the screening of films other than those that were produced in or dealt with countries of the British Empire. According to the Realists, the censorship provisions of the proposed Bill would be used to impose such restrictions on the State Film Centre. In a July 1948 Realist Film Unit Circular there is a report of the parliamentary discussion of the State Film Centre. Mr Kent Hughes, State Minister for Education, replied to questions from a Mr Cremean in Parliament dealing with the State Film Centre’s holding of films from the USSR: I have given instructions to the State Film Centre to use its equipment for screening only its own films and not films produced elsewhere that may be regarded as international propaganda, over which we have no control. I have furthermore given instructions that the Centre must confine its activities to Australia and the British Empire in order to keep out of international trouble. The Realists embarked on a campaign including distributing ‘1,000 forms of a petition [and] … issuing 50,000 copies of an open letter to the State Government’ and organizing public meetings, including one where Mr Cremean was invited to view the films he had named in the Victorian Parliament as subversive, including a Soviet cartoon version of Little Red Riding Hood. Eventually the legislation was abandoned due to the pressure exerted by church groups, probably including the Brotherhood of St Laurence, and other organizations such as the Melbourne Film Society, that may have been alerted to the possible ramifications of this legislation by the Realists. Foreshadowing these events, Bert Hogenkamp maps out the struggle of British working-class cultural organizations to import and screen Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Basically the law pertaining to the screening of films in Britain in the 1930s resulted in a complicated and contradictory situation, one not dissimilar to the one the Realists, in Australia, found themselves in in 1948. Don Macpherson points out that ‘the interpretation of what exactly constitutes censorship of film in Britain arises in part from the interpretation of the 1909 Cinematograph Act’ which was originally designed to give local councils the power to govern safety aspects involved in screening nitrate films in halls (Macpherson 1980: 97). When smaller gauge film (16 and 9.5mm) appeared in 1923 the act was confounded because the film stock for these gauges was safety stock and not subject to the 1909 Act. The other major organization involved in censorship procedures was the already mentioned British Board of Film Censors which was a body set up by the industry to protect its own interests. The Board ‘had no higher authority to back it, [but] this did not prevent it from having a clause in the contract which anyone who submitted a film had to sign, forbidding the person to seek redress elsewhere should the Board reject the film’ (Macpherson 1980: 97). The function of the Board was also contingent upon
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the local authorities who also had powers to ban films approved by the Board. Hogenkamp cites Ralph Bond’s account in Close Up (which the Realists would no doubt have read) of how the London Workers’ Film Society had applied to screen Potemkin but had been denied a permit by the London City Council (Hogenkamp 1986: 38). The London Council could ban the film from premises over which it had jurisdiction such as that belonging to trade unions. The Realists seem to have organized their campaign to make the maximum use of middle-class organisations, like film societies, rather than organizations that were primarily identified with the working-class or left-wing politics. One notion that events such as the introduction of the Cinematograph Films Bill addresses indirectly is the misnomer often given to cultural organizations like the Realists: that of a ‘communist front’. The policies adopted by government-related bodies such as the British Board of Film Censors and the Victorian State Government were not-so-well cloaked attacks on organizations that were said to be ‘communist’. This understanding of the nature of left cultural organizations diminishes the complexity of the left milieu in parallel with the left’s simplistic understanding of capitalism and censorship. Although some organizations may have been initiated by the Party these ‘front’ organizations are very different from the one begun by Coldicutt and Mathews. Gerry Harant commented on communist cultural organizations: Because a lot of people who did organize them and a lot of people who were interested in all sorts of things particularly the arts, were communists, they automatically used the medium they were engaged in this way. The fact that they were supporting the Communist Party was only true in as much as they were supporting its aims and individual members were Communist Party members and also supported other aspects of Communist policy. But the notion which is always put, that the Communist Party created certain bodies, well if you could create art forms by decree then perhaps Zhdanov was right. Life isn’t like that. You can only try and control these activities. This notion of a front is total nonsense. (Personal Interview) Harant’s comments simplify what is a more complicated situation. People who were communists in cultural organizations articulated communist ideas in word and deed. Although these ideas may not have been given as orders from Moscow or the Communist Party of Australia, they usually conformed to the ideals expressed at a Party level. While left-minded people who were involved in cultural organizations were not all communists and may not have had strong agendas, those who were communists did, and these people attempted to implement these ideas simply because they believed in them. Harant is attempting to redefine the notion of ‘creation’ by shifting the definition from a Party directed one to a populist communist/artistic one. He is simply interpreting ideology as a cultural rather than an institutional product. People who attended screenings at New Theatre were encouraged to understand films in overtly political ways. On the other hand, other film societies were generally middle-class organizations that appreciated Soviet films, for example, as art films. The Realists liked these films because they were based on a Soviet equation of art and propaganda.
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In 1949 the film society movement, inspired by the likes of the Realists, formed the Federation of Victorian Film Societies which at this time had about 40 member societies. Later the Australian Council of Film Societies was formed. Out of this burgeoning movement came many Victorian film-makers, technicians and film buffs creating the audience for the film societies that eventually made possible the first Melbourne Film Festival at Olinda in 1952 extending the influence of the Realists into the future. Although screenings at New Theatre continued until 1960, 1951 was the year that a certain era in the history of the Realist Film Association came to a close. Coldicutt left the Realists and the Party to teach at a secondary level and Mathews, like many others in the progressive movement in the early 1950s, travelled overseas to visit the European Socialist Democracies and to attend the massive peace conference held in Berlin in 1951. Nevertheless the practical film-making work begun by the Realists was transferred to Sydney where Mathews, in particular, had established links through his work with Eddie Allison on Coaldust (1948) and with New Zealand expatriate Cecil Holmes who visited the Realists in 1948. After Mathews returned from Europe he settled in Sydney. In a personal interview he said that it was during the filming of the peace rallies for Holmes’s They Chose Peace (1952) that he worked alongside the young Keith Gow who later performed sustained film production with Norma Disher and Jock Levy in the Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit. It was during this time that Mathews was reunited with the Sydney branch of New Theatre. He produced plays including Reedy River which provides part of the earliest feature narrative link between left theatre and film in Australia in the form of Holmes’s feature Three in One. In the following chapter I will explore the way that Three in One operates as a document of the left in this period through its dialogue with a range of theatrical, literary and cinematic texts. Notes 1. J ohn Hughes’s The Archive Project (2006) is a documentary film that essays the history, influence and resonances of Melbourne’s Realist Film Unit and Association in relation to the ongoing radical film tradition in Australia, including the film-maker’s own body of work. See the filmography for full details. 2. Jacob’s writes ‘These program notes, reprinted from the April 1933 bulletin of the Realist Film Association in Melbourne, Australia, were written for the screening there of the film written and directed by Victor Turin in 1928–29.’ This dating and placing of the article is misleading. If the notes were written in 1933 they weren’t written for the Realist Film Unit formed in 1945. However, Coldicutt, in ‘The Party, films and I’, writes that ‘I had been greatly influenced by the Soviet film Turksib, released commercially in Australia in 1933.’ It is probable that Coldicutt had written some programme notes for the Friends of the Soviet Union for a screening of the film in 1935 or 36 after joining the FOSU and that these notes were reprinted for the Realist Film Unit and Association. Jacobs attribution of the notes to the Realist Film Unit may have been a way of identifying the existence of the Unit. 3. The duplication of images may have an interesting history itself. The images as they exist today appear clear enough in both films to suggest that the images for both films were printed off a negative print rather than simply duplicated from a screening print.
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2 Cecil Holmes’s Folk Politics: The Intertextuality of Three in One
In Australian Cinema Graham Shirley and Brian Adams indicate that in 1955 radical left-wing director and Communist Party member Cecil Holmes was approached by equally left-wing author Frank Hardy who was keen to realize on film an adaptation of his short story, ‘The Load of Wood’. Hardy would provide some money derived from the overseas sales of his best-selling novel, Power without Glory (1950). Holmes agreed; and upon the completion of the film of Hardy’s story, Holmes and advertising executive Julian Rose decided to expand the project. ‘Portmanteau’ films were then in vogue and, encouraged by the result, Holmes and Rose decided to press ahead with two more episodes that could, with links by actor John McCallum, be combined with the first film to make a feature-length release under the collective title Three in One (1956) (Shirley and Adams 1989: 189).1 The two other narratives, ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’, from a short story by Henry Lawson, and ‘The City’, from an original screenplay by Ralph Peterson, were placed before and after ‘The Load of Wood’, providing a frame for Hardy’s story.2 This production history suggests scraping together of a ‘feature’ out of three disparate stories, yet Three in One maintains a coherence that is indebted to the ‘spirit of the 1890s’, the figures of Henry Lawson and Frank Hardy and the notion of an Australian radical nationalism. At the same time these notions and figures will be considered in relation to a broader international left culture. As if in response to the story of its production, Shirley and Adams read the three episodes thematically. Three in One is a tribute to mateship and the mourning of lost values. In ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’, the adaptation reduces some of Lawson’s irony for the sake of Holmes’ message, and the mates themselves are used to reinforce the bonding of union solidarity.…
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‘The Load of Wood’ is set in the 1930s, a time when the old values, polarised by a world war, were further perpetuated by economic depression. Darky [sic] (Jock Levy), the central figure of Frank Hardy’s story, is more militant than any of Henry Lawson’s heroes, but he shares the winter privations that unite the poor and unemployed of a small country town and is determined to rectify matters in the face of his mates’ fears … ‘The City’, the third part of Three in One, is influenced by Holmes’s high regard for Italian neo-realist cinema, and brings the director’s preoccupations up to date … life in the city is shown to lack the sense of mateship that has sustained the protagonists of ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ and ‘The Load of Wood’. (Shirley and Adams 1989: 190) As this analysis may suggest, Three in One can be understood as a text constituted by what John Frow has termed ‘traces and tracings of otherness’ (45). Texts are made out of cultural and ideological norms; out of the conventions of genre; out of the styles and idioms embedded in the language; out of connotations and collocative sets; out of clichés, formulae, of proverbs; and out of other texts. (Frow 1990: 45) In this chapter I would like to expand Shirley and Adams’s account to display the film’s intertextual operations. Of course, as Frow points out, ‘the identification of an intertext is an interpretation. The intertext is not a real and causative source but a theoretical construct formed by and serving the purposes of a reading’ (Frow 1990: 46). This chapter will read Three in One in relation to the interconnectedness of a broad range of left cultural production to furnish some fuller appreciation of Holmes’s film as the refiguring or re-presentation of a milieu, a document of culture, and in the process provide some evidence that the culture of Australia itself resembles the intertexts that Frow describes. ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ invites consideration in relation to the figure of Henry Lawson and the ‘spirit of the 1890s’ as it reemerged in the 1950s folk revival and the work of the New Theatre in Australia. ‘The Load of Wood’ evokes the figure of Frank Hardy, something of a 1950s reincarnation of Lawson at least in the sense that Hardy operated as a signifier for the left at the time in the same manner that Lawson had at the turn of the century. ‘The City’ can be seen as arising out of an international tradition of city films, as well as more directly from the play and film of Love on the Dole and J.B. Priestly’s play ‘They Came to a City’. At the same time, underlying all this is the powerful figure of Lawson whose critique of modernity in relation to what he understood to be the values of ‘the Bush’ provides one way of seeing a coherence not suggested by the production history of Three in One. In approaching this film through various filmic, theatrical and literary works popular in left circles at the time, this chapter will open up Holmes’s work in Australia onto a larger ‘global’ or international network of left cultural production.3 In a personal interview Holmes explained, in broad terms, the milieu out of which he saw his work emerging.
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Seen in a universal context, it’s a period – doesn’t matter whether you’re living in New Zealand or anywhere else – in the Western world the influences were great upon people, especially of my generation, people in their teens and twenties just leaving school, because of the Spanish civil war and the fight against fascism there, the rise of Hitler, the rise of Japan in the Pacific, the other major fascist power, and the positives such as Roosevelt’s New Deal which gave great heart to progressive minded people, the conflicts in England within the left, the Labor Party versus the rising Communist Party and the reactionaries still digging in … The natural thing to do was move to the left. Part of the network which maintained this dialogue on an international scale was the emergence of a left press which worked its way around the world. As we have seen, cinema journals played a role here, but there were also literary publications. There was an organization called The Left Book Club which was created by Victor Gollancz, the great publisher, and some other people were then brought in to promote radical literature. Penguin Books was founded then by Allen Lane. Cheap books – sixpence, ninepence – and they were doing something similar. There was radical literature available through this sort of spectrum. Not all communist or Marxist oriented, it was broader than that. They used to come out once a month. It was a book club, and you paid your two and sixpence and you got this book printed on fairly cheap paper. (Personal Interview) According to Margaret Cole’s ‘Foreword’ to John Lewis’s account of The Left Book Club, the organization was founded in 1936 by Gollancz and boasted 57,000 members by 1939 (Cole 1970: 7). Gollancz had already established a viable publishing house, Victor Gollancz Ltd, publishing, among other titles, Ivor Montagu’s English translation of Pudovkin on Film Technique in 1929. Cole says that the Club was part of a larger fervour in the left in Britain which was given impetus by Roosevelt’s New Deal and Leon Blum’s Front Populaire. She speculates that intellectuals and professionals all over the world had recovered enough from the effects of the world depression of the early 1930s ‘to think again and to reach the conclusion that neither world slumps nor the resultant miseries could be allowed to recur — and that intelligent organisations could prevent them’ (Cole 1970: 7). The Club was one such organization. For the left in many parts of the world, such as New Zealand and Australia, the Club made available cheap progressive writing on a range of topics (Lewis 1970: 74–75). Lewis lists some of the offerings in a list in the rear of his book. Choices ranged from John Strachey’s The Theory and Practice of Socialism in 1936 to George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937, to Science and Life by J.G. Crowther in 1938 and Soviet Policy and Its Critics by J.R. Campbell in 1939 (Lewis 1970: 139–149). When asked about major filmic influences, Holmes has cited his witnessing of a double bill of Harry Watt and Basil Wright’s Night Mail (1936) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) in his home town of Palmerston North, New Zealand – an experience that led him to want to make films. ‘It had a dramatic effect upon me. I saw the magic of cinema and wanted
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to be involved’ (Personal Interview). During the war, through some letters of introduction, Holmes was able to spend time at Alexander Korda’s Denham Studios in England meeting and watching at work directors David Lean, Carol Reed, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. At this time Holmes recalled that he also whet his appetite for documentary in conversations with the protagonists of the British documentary movement Wright, Watt and Alberto Cavalcanti who ‘had all been in the position themselves of wanting to do something. So if some young fella comes along from the colonies they’re quite happy to pass the time of day with him and talk’ (Personal Interview). The experience of the two poles of British film production at its peak, from the studio productions of Lean and Reed to the politically committed documentary practice of Wright and Cavalcanti, has a visible residue in the film work with which Holmes himself was later involved. Holmes’s films display a convergence of the ‘universal context’ of left politics, with the gamut of realist film-making, and the quest for regional identity, something that the New Zealander responded to before migrating to Australia in 1948. This sense of regional identity had its beginnings in Holmes’s early interest in Australian film: ‘I saw every Ken Hall and Charlie Chauvel film which also had a cultural effect and made you aware of your Australasian roots’ (Personal Interview). While Holmes was serving with the Royal New Zealand Airforce and then the Navy during the Second World War, John Grierson visited New Zealand, setting up, almost immediately, the National Film Unit that was to produce ten-minute newsreels entitled Weekly Review to further the war effort. In 1945, Holmes returned to New Zealand and, although there were no vacancies, he managed to hang around the Unit ‘teaching myself how to splice a film and use a Moviola in the lunch hour’ long enough to get himself at first some unpaid work and later, positions as newsreel editor and finally as director (Holmes 1986: 30). He has described his early film The Coaster (1947) as ‘a bit derivative’, following the Griersonian formula expressed in Night Mail that had so impressed him on that night in Palmerston North (Personal Interview). Most of the films that Holmes worked on were the newsreels with which Grierson had recommended the National Film Unit begin its production. By the end of the war the tranquil existence of the ex-servicemen in the Film Unit came to be undermined by what John O’Shea describes as ‘an editorial policy that followed a [wartime, nationalist] political agenda’ and employees had become ‘restive’ (O’Shea 1992: 22–23). Holmes, a Communist Party member since 1939, became a target for the undercurrent of discontent and emerging anti-communist sentiment. Because of the film about shipping Holmes had made, The Coaster, the head of the Federation of Labour, Fintan Patrick Walsh, was his sworn enemy. It may have been a storm in a teacup but New Zealand had the mortification, as seen in hindsight, of sampling the McCarthyism that was to disfigure the American film industry a few years later. With Walsh advising him, the Acting Prime Minister, Walter Nash, sanctioned a vigorous attack on Holmes. (O’Shea 1992: 23)
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Holmes’s run-in with New Zealand authorities occurred in 1948 when, as the Unit’s union representative, he was approached by John Mallitte, […] a very conservative chap actually, and he said I’ve got to go up in that Tiger Moth and take some pictures and he said why should I have to pay my own bloody insurance and I thought, oh yeah, that’s a good cause so we had a meeting and the Government wouldn’t budge so we had a strike; a stop work. Of course we were pretty discontented, nobody was being paid much money, people working hard and the public service is inimical to creativity. So you had a conflict such as people experience, or used to, at Film Australia. (Personal Interview) Not only did Holmes instigate the first strike in the history of the New Zealand Civil Service, but he became the subject of events known as ‘the Cecil Holmes satchel affair’ which was for a time infamous in New Zealand film and political history. New Zealand film-maker and academic, Annie Goldson has recreated these events in her documentary film Seeing Red (1995). I had a satchel with letters, papers, what-have-you. This was stolen out of my car which included a letter about the strike to the President of the Union which was written in a rather idiosyncratic, perhaps unfortunate way; a personal letter and this was released to the press and printed on the front pages. It didn’t serve me very well in the eyes of the public. People didn’t mind too much about that. The Government rather overstepped the mark and people realized that it wasn’t very nice to go around stealing people’s personal possessions and putting them in the newspapers or whathaveyou. So the tide turned against the Government. (Personal Interview) The letter, published in Wellington’s The Dominion, was addressed to Jack Lewin, Chairman of the Public Service Association. Dear Jack I’m calling the stop work meeting at the studios for 3.30 Friday.… You and Griffin and Dick Scott will be present. The ‘pulsing up’ will be entirely over to you. At the end of it, a fiery, but on the line, resolution will be passed. In your flow of chatter I suggest a line like this: 1) Butter the buggers up a bit … remind them of their previously … successful struggle of a couple of years back, of how they have been even able to help other groups in the P.S. because of their stand … 3) Attack the government … most people out here vote labour of course but they’re all anarchists at heart and don’t give a hoot in hell for anything in particular … but … with no exceptions … they heartily hate the administration. You can put it in as hard as you like.… they’re interested, not unintelligent and will respond to a strong lead. After you’ve wound up this resolution will be put and carried unanimously. (Holmes 1948: 8)
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Holmes had used official New Zealand National Film Unit stationary in the correspondence and the Government took the line that, as a well-known member of the Communist Party (his Party card was also in the satchel), he was manipulating the nation’s largest trade union. Over the ensuing year the Government, with public opinion rising against it, was eventually taken to and defeated in the Supreme Court by the Public Service Association. The Government was ordered to pay Holmes a year’s back pay and to reinstate him. Holmes didn’t remain idle. During this period he was unable to get paid work. In his autobiography he writes ‘I couldn’t get a job (“Oh, you’re that communist,” said the girl at the employment office)’, so he turned his attention to New Zealand’s long-running Carpenters Union strike (Holmes 1986: 34). Holmes approached the Union and made the film Fighting Back (1948) which can be seen as his first move into radical film-making. With money for film stock from the Union and assisted by New Zealander, Rudall Hayward and his sound recordist, assistant and wife, Ngaire, Holmes was able to make a film he writes of as ‘the first time I had complete freedom to express my attitudes on my own terms’ (Holmes 1986: 35). Holmes visited Australia during this time where he had the negative processed and the soundtrack added with assistance from the Building Workers Industrial Union in Victoria. During this visit Holmes made contact with Melbourne’s New Theatre and the fledgling Realist Film Unit. After the completion of Fighting Back and the end of the court case, Holmes left New Zealand permanently for Australia where he had been in contact with John Heyer who was about to embark on his new role as head of the Shell Film Unit. Heyer was busy in pre-production for what was to be the Unit’s most famous film The Back of Beyond (1954) and he asked Holmes to script and direct The Food Machine (1952) for Shell. Holmes tells us that Heyer ‘drove him to despair’ with the attention to detail and preparation that characterized his own film work and that he required from others (Holmes 1986: 36). But Holmes was also extremely grateful for the opportunity that Heyer provided: ‘He didn’t have any hang ups about politics. He couldn’t have cared less. We just talked about films. He is a tremendous film person. He eats, drinks and sleeps it’ (Personal Interview). After the stint with Shell, Holmes, with the agency of organizations such as the New Theatre in Sydney, began making ‘independent’ films in Australia. Before commencing an examination of the manner in which his earlier films, Captain Thunderbolt and Words for Freedom, provide entry points into a discussion of, as well as intertextual links with, Three in One, it will be useful to sketch the outlines of the international folk revival out of which all these films arose. Three in One’s propounding of 1950s folk culture can perhaps be best understood through the introduction that John McCallum presents in the film. Imaged in a dressing room after the matinee session of The Deep Blue Sea, McCallum says to the camera You know, when we were looking at it [the film] this morning I was reminded of a couple of lines from an Australian poem called ‘The Australian’, I think. They go like this.
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So, toward undreamt-of destinies He slouches down the centuries.
That was written in the last century, but already in one century’s time that destiny is much more than a dream and Australians aren’t slouching towards it, they’re hurrying fast. They used to say in the sleepy little town where I was born that if you stopped in the main street for a few seconds and stood still, somebody would be sure to come up and lean against you. Well, if you stopped in that same main street today, you’d get knocked over in the rush. Anybody who’s been away for the last ten years, as I have, sees a great change when they come back home, an enormous expansion, progress everywhere. McCallum’s presence as an international theatrical personality and his recourse to this poem says much more about the culture from which Three in One arises than just the two lines he quotes as well as the ‘universal’ concerns that underpin the whole film. ‘The Australian’ is a poem by another New Zealand expatriate, Arthur Adams, who edited the Bulletin’s Red Page, from 1906 to 1909 and wrote eleven novels and ‘several volumes of poetry and plays’ (Cantrell 1977: 275). Essentially, the poem is about nation-building in the face of the harshness of the physical conditions of Australia – a masculine, colonial rendering of nation out of wilderness. It includes these lines:
Rearing his cities in the sand. He builds where even God has banned. With green a continent he crowns. And stars a wilderness with towns. His gyves of steel the great plain wears: With paths the distances he snares. A child who takes a world for toy, To build a nation, or destroy. (Qtd in Cantrell 1977: 88)
McCallum’s intimation of some uncertainty about the title indicates much about the poem’s nationalist impulse. While he is correct in recalling the title of the poem, the scripted hesitation gestures to the poem’s inclusion in a larger compendium, also entitled The Australian, ‘gathered together’ by Bill Wannan and first published in 1954. The Australian corresponds well with Three in One historically, culturally and thematically. I don’t think it is mere coincidence that the two lines that McCallum employs in his introduction are the very lines that Wannan quoted in a chapter entitled ‘Casual Australians’ under the subtitle ‘Easy Stages’ (Wannan 1959: 52). Works such as the poem ‘The Australian’ despite their mythological rendering of identity in this country, resonate with a whole host of contemporary turn of the century international musical and literary forms that were revived and remade in the 1950s. It is worth paying some attention to the American and English revivals before considering the Australian folk revival and continuing the discussion of Three in One.
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In the 1930s, Serge Denisoff argues, the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), provided the roots which emerged as a folk revival that lasted into the 1960s. In Great Day Coming, Denisoff commences his exploration of the relationship between the organized left and ‘folk consciousness’ as he terms it, by tracing the emphasis on proletarian art back to the Soviets. The inspiration that the Bolsheviks found in ‘folk songs and fairy tales, in proverbs and adages’ was taken up in the Soviet state as a continuation of the culture that Russian peasants were familiar with (Denisoff 1971: 10). In pre-Soviet Russia folk music was in fact the music of the people. Bolsheviks utilized folk music because it was the music the illiterate muzcik or peasant knew. The Russian peasant was familiar with political themes being inserted into his music. Russian propaganda songs performed in the style of the folk were analogous to those found in Elizabethan England. Many topical ballads were written about the Czars, particularly Ivan the Terrible; the Bolsheviks only expanded upon this tradition. (Denisoff 1971: 10) The international left believed that in the revolution of 1917 ‘all the theories, dreams, hopes, and expectations’ of the left around the world came true (Denisoff 1971: 11). Many of the practices and techniques of the October Revolution, including propaganda songs, were superimposed upon American society. The propaganda songs favored by American Bolsheviks were Soviet, especially those from the revolutionary period and, of course, the ‘Internationale.’ Many of the Soviet songs were not generically based on folk material but were idealizations of rural culture, which in Soviet Russia was deemed proletarian. (Denisoff 1971: 11) Denisoff further asserts that this translation of Soviet revolutionary culture into the United States is ‘highly suggestive’ in that ‘it is here that rural qua proletarian culture emerges’ (Denosoff 1971: 11). One of the problems that the CPUSA faced in the 1930s was that it was a ‘movement of the foreign-born’ (Denisoff 1971: 12). This meant that for the establishment of a folk culture that could feed into, or, at least, unify the Party, language as well as ethnic diversity was problematic. Denisoff asserts that the Comintern thought of the CPUSA as ‘the vanguard of the American people’ when in reality it was comprised of ‘newly immigrated party members [who] were reluctant to move outside their own ethnic groups’ (Denisoff 1971: 12). Moscow called for the CPUSA, as early as 1920, to establish a strong unified movement and that ‘the language federations will only be in a position to fulfil their duty if they amalgamate as closely as possible with the organizations of the American worker’ (Denisoff 1971: 12). The CPUSA responded to this diversity by classing all newly arrived members as ‘working class’ as an attempt to Americanize them. Soviet directives on art also contributed to this establishment of a ‘folk consciousness’ along with the Americanization of newly arrived immigrants and what Denisoff calls ‘the idealization of rural culture’. In drawing folk music into the strategies for solidifying the masses it was Lenin’s ‘observation’ on art that provided much impetus. As Denisoff interprets it, Lenin declared that:
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Art belongs to the people. It must penetrate with its deepest roots into the very midst of the laboring masses. It must be intelligible to these masses and be loved by them. It must unite the feeling, thought, and will of these masses; it must elevate them. (Denisoff 1971: 15) Along with these words many Americans contributed to the idea that folk art, in particular music and dance ‘serves the interests of the masses: its subject matter is based on their everyday lives, it is practiced by the people as participants, and its individual exponents spring from the people themselves’ (Denisoff 1971: 15). The other major consideration for the left was that musical production in the United States was under the control of capitalism. Popular music and classical music thus were said to obscure the class struggle in the guise of entertainment. Folk music, on the other hand, would, in Lenin’s words, ‘unify broad masses of people’ and ‘reflect reality and not obscure the struggle’ (Denisoff 1971: 16). The conflation of the notions of rural ‘idealization’, Americanization, and the unifying, folk derived nature of art was supposed to constitute a music ‘national in form; revolutionary in content’, the essence of folk consciousness (Denisoff 1971: 17). However, as Denisoff points out, the United States was not an agrarian culture out of which the impetus for revolutionary folk music had grown. Although the ‘discovery’ of folk music was directly associated with the stirrings of labour in the southern states, in particular the famous coal strikes in Harlan County in 1927–28, it took until what Denisoff terms ‘the proletarian renaissance’ of 1939–42 for the folk subculture and style of life to fuse with the working-class ethos of the Communist Party (Denisoff 1971: 68). Much of this renaissance can be attributed to the figure of Woody Guthrie. A major part of Guthrie’s persona was that he was ‘like’ a revolutionary balladeer. It was Guthrie’s performance of this ideal that connected with the ethos of the Party and extended the Party’s aims onto a much broader spectrum. Woody was hailed as the personification of the renaissance because he was like a proletarian revolutionary from the pages of a Steinbeck novel. Art Shields described him as possessing ‘the wit of Will Rogers with the philosophy of a Rebel’. The philosophy was Marx’s, the style Guthrie’s. Guthrie’s philosophy customarily has been portrayed as that of a labor movement radical. This characterization, as we have seen, is a romanticized one. (Denisoff 1971: 68) Guthrie fitted the popular image that the CPUSA was searching for; bringing together Lenin’s words on art with the American working-class ideal (Denisoff 1971: 68). Another important component of this renaissance, according to Denisoff, was the field work carried out by Alan Lomax and others under the Works Progress Administration initiative of the Roosevelt Government. Lomax, for example set up the Folk Music Archives of the Library of Congress, recording artists such as Guthrie, Aunt Molly Jackson, Sarah Ogan and later Leadbelly and Burl Ives (Denisoff 1971: 70). Lomax commenced a massive survey of unrecorded folk music that eventuated in the oral history books, Folk Song Style and Culture (1968) and
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The Land where the Blues Began (1993). The most famous publication that grew out of the New Deal initiatives was James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). One slightly different way of understanding the folk music ‘revival’ of this period is as an adoption of performers and artists by the broader left as part of what Michael Denning has called ‘the laboring of American culture’ (Denning 1996: 126). In his view the left ‘discovered’ or utilized traditions in American folk culture that had been in existence for decades as a way of employing what Denning calls, following Raymond Williams, ‘cultural formations’ (Denning 1996: xx). Just as in Denisoff’s formulation, the broader left evoked by Denning employed ‘the folk’ as a way of associating with ‘authentic’ cultural formations. One example of this is Alan Lomax’s 1946 recording of Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy Williamson released as Blues in the Mississippi Night (1958). These recordings were steeped in the mythology of dangerous endeavours on the part of the interviewees and Lomax, much of which motivates his The Land Where the Blues Began, to ‘capture’ on tape authentic blues music and stories. The emphasis in these recordings is on how these three musicians ‘lived the story themselves’ (CD booklet notes). While the imagery, the musicians and the music is of the South, the recording itself was made in a studio in New York City while the trio were on tour. Yet the discourse that emerges around it is of the documentation of authentic experience and, in particular, poverty and racism – issues that the left readily embraced. In these initiatives it is possible to see the way that the rural persona of the ‘folkie’ fed into the left subculture of New York, including the CPUSA and then back into the official, Governmentsanctioned culture of the New Deal. The next chapter will pick up on this thread in relation to the folk-landscape films of Pare Lorentz in relation to the work of John Heyer in Australia. The international folk revival can also be understood to be a cumulative phenomenon, commencing around the turn of the century with countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia sharing many characteristics. Like the urban American idealization of rural folk culture, the British folk movement was an extension of the idea of ‘country’ as a source of ‘traditional’ and proletarian culture. In The Imagined Village, a history of the folk revival and folk culture more generally, Georgina Boyes traces the idea of ‘folklife’, ‘country traditions’ or ‘organic communities’ back to the industrial revolution. In attempting to work through this contradiction of the English folk revival, Boyes turns to ‘the issue of the nature of culture in industrialised society’. Given the evidence of aesthetic creativity inherent in the Revival’s definition of folk-song, for example, how were past and present cultural manifestations to be interpreted? On one hand, urban popular culture, its context and consumers, could be demonstrated to be inferior, because folk culture had such high aesthetic, academic and historical connotations. Old, lost, rural ‘organic communities’, rather than newly developed, urban existence could therefore be held up as the only valid source of an alternative, uncultivated art. Conversely, however, as a form of working-class expressive culture, folksong could also be presented as evidence of the artistic creativity of the proletariat. The continued existence of folk
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traditions, their use and adaptation in working-class life, offered a line of cultural development traceable from pre-history to post-industrialism. (Boyes 1993: 3–4) Later, particularly during the Second World War, the ideals of the country, of a particular construction of Englishness, relied on the reproduction of Englishness in popular culture. This construction was explicitly tied to nationality. A timeless landscape, dotted with villages which were ‘typically English’ rather than named locations, it was also peopled by representations of national character. Popular historicism elided sturdy Saxon freemen, honest Georgian yeomen and the dimpled milkmaids of Tudor England and set them disporting on a summer morning, on the green of a conceptual village in ‘the country south of the Thames and Severn and East of Exmoor’. (Boyes 1993: 99) Just as in the account of the British folk revival in relation to industrialization provided by Boyes, the 1890s figured strongly as a touchstone for a similar revival in Australia. John Docker traces the revival of the ‘spirit of the 1890s’ back to the Second World War, ‘when for Vance and Nettie Palmer and other radical nationalists who wrote for Meanjin, the Nineties became important as an image, a symbol, of the kind of organic unity that was needed in Australia’s darkest hour as Japan pressed down on us from the north’ (Docker 1991: xxi). Docker goes on to consider how this symbol functioned in terms of both nationalism and radicalism. In the 1950s, in the dark hour of suburbia, with the euphoria of World War II social unity and common striving more and more disintegrating, the radical nationalists felt it was a matter of great urgency to keep alive the Nineties, that time, so they argued, when the values of a true Australian nation and national character and democracy were formed. These values—egalitarianism, laconic humour, irreverance, stoicism, scepticism, mateship, hospitality, independence—were lived out by the outback’s nomadic male workers, the shearers, drovers, bullockies; they were evoked in oral form in ballads, and created in the writing of Furphy, Lawson, A.B. Paterson and the Bulletin generally. (Docker 1991: xxi) This attention to the 1890s spread into influential works, such as Vance Palmer’s book Legend of the Nineties, and academic work, such as that of Ian Turner and Russel Ward. Holmes’s emigration to Australia in the early 1950s coincided with this flowering in the re-publication of poetry, ballads and stories, including books like Wannan’s The Australian. In the forward to his widely read book The Australian Legend, which appeared two years after Three in One and was to influence a particular notion of Australian identity for decades, Russel Ward recalls the milieu from which his book grew. The book sprang initially from an interest in Australian folk-ballads, the old ‘anonymous’ bush songs of the last century, but it grew naturally into a study of the life, outlook and
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influence of those who sang them. A few ballads and popular songs have been used as background material to help illustrate the pastoral worker’s ethos. (Ward 1958: v) In a 1956 article, ‘Felons and folksongs’ in Meanjin, Ward, in tracing a history of folk songs back to settlement, provides an indication of how important he understands the material he is studying to be. Such songs ‘probably give a more accurate picture of social attitudes, at any rate of those prevalent among their singers, than can be obtained in any other single way’ (Ward 1956: 283). A significant component of the article is devoted to connecting the tradition of ‘bushranging ballads’ back to the folk songs, street ballads and ‘transportation ballads’ that were in existence in Britain prior to the convicts arrival at Botany Bay. At the end of the article Ward provides a summation of his thesis and a subsequent warning. Every tradition embodies both negative and positive elements. In his cultural swag the old hand carries delusions of racial grandeur as well as mateship; but most Australians seem well satisfied that, on the whole, the tradition is a good and a democratic one. One of the functions of the writer, however, is to create traditions as the men of the nineties did, or at least to modify and develop them. It seems to me that Australian poets are doing this more successfully than our prose writers. Today more Australians than ever before, proportionately and absolutely, are city-dwellers. Life here is very much more intimately affected by overseas events and ideas than it was when the portrait of the ‘noble bushman’ was hardening into a stereotype. We surely have less need now to convince ourselves of difference, of the fact of our nationality, than we did in 1895. Yet the ‘outback’ tradition, unmodified or insufficiently modified by subsequent events still seems to fascinate too many novelists and short story writers. The fascination may become morbid, if not fatal, when it so dominates the creative writer’s imagination as to make him more interested in tracing the lineaments of the ‘noble bushman’ in contemporary society than he is in discovering what people are like now. (Ward 1956: 300) In another article on the topic, ‘Australian folk-ballads and singers’ Ward emphasizes the importance of the process of remaking to folk songs. Drawing on the work of M.J.C. Hodgart, Ward understands the folk song in Australia to have strong parallels with those of Britain. ‘A folk-song then, whether Australian or British, often comes from a literary source, but may begin almost anywhere. It becomes truly a folk-song in proportion as it is adopted and “re-created” by “the folk”’ (Ward 1954: 369). As a Communist Party member like Holmes, Ward was interested in the ‘radical’ aspect to these folk songs particularly because, for him, they were a component of the cultural bonds between the working class internationally. For Ward, the remaking (and subsequent revival) of these folk songs occurred due to class similarity across national borders. Ward’s understanding allows him to read ‘the folk’ as ‘the community of semimigratory bush-workers – drovers, bullockies, shearers, sundowners, and less emphatically, gold diggers’ (Ward 1954: 370). This location of the origins of ‘the folk’ rests on the same idealization that Denisoff and Boyes identified in American and English folk culture. Ward’s emphasis on class reads the bushranger in the light of a similar English figure.
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Like Robin Hood, Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner, Johnny Gilbert, Ned Kelly and the Wild Colonial Boy were supposed by the ballad singers to have robbed the rich but helped the poor.… And like Robin Hood the bushrangers and their friends were under little effective restraint from the distant central government. Like his struggle, theirs was represented as being, in some sense, a combination of class and national warfare – of Australian native (often Irish-Australian!) working class patriots against the upper-class representatives of the alien, or at least remote and unsympathetic, British Government. (Ward 1954: 370) For Ward, it is not the formal qualities of the folk songs that are Australian, it is the quality of mateship which even he seems to concede has ‘an ancestral psychological relationship’ with British (particularly Irish) folk culture (Ward 1954: 373). In ‘Australian Folk-Ballads and Singers’ Ward provides a lengthy quote from a book by Alexander Harris entitled Martin Beck; or the Story of an Australian Squatter where an Irishman in the 1830s sings a traditional Irish song entitled ‘The Family Man’. He points out the similarities this song shares with ‘The Rollicking Ramble-eer’ which he dates ‘fifty or sixty years later’ (Ward 1954: 373). One notices that there are no conventional Australian stage-properties in the song – no bunyips or billabongs or blueys – nothing specifically Australian at all in fact, except the underlying sentiment of easy-come easy-go generosity and mateship between the members of the nomadic tribe, and the implicit assumption that to relieve the rich of their superfluities is a moral act. (Ward 1954: 373) This understanding of the ‘universal’ ideal of mateship in relation to ‘conventional Australian stage-properties’ suggests another way of comparing the Australian folk revival with that of the United States and England – thematically. In the following section, I will discuss the musical play Reedy River. This New Theatre production is a key text of the Australian left culture of the 1950s, and it provides some distinct resonances with Holmes’s film work, particularly the deployment of Henry Lawson’s ‘folk-like’ ballads. Reedy River opened in Melbourne in March 1953 and in Sydney in December later that year. The initial Sydney production director was former Melbourne Realist Film Unit member, Bob Mathews. The play is what Leslie Rees in The Making of Australian Drama calls a ‘striking example of a repertory show being built from idea to production inside a theatre’ (Rees 1973: 484). Rees indicates that part of the emergence of the play was due to an ‘enthusiasm … among a small group for collecting old ballads and bush songs, at that time hardly known to any but a few connoisseurs and recording them on tape’ (Rees 1973: 484). The play was built up around a group of collected songs including traditional folk songs such as ‘Click go the Shears’ and ‘Lazy Harry’s’, but it also involved putting to music Lawson’s poem ‘Reedy River’ and other material such as Helen Palmer and Doreen Jacob’s folksong ‘The Ballad of ‘91’. Eric Grayson (John Gray) recalls, in the 1954 Sydney New Theatre Songs From Reedy River, that ‘the idea of putting an Australian musical into practice came when two of Chris Kempster’s songs were played to me in Melbourne (one of them his setting to Henry Lawson’s poem ‘Reedy River’)
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and the simple, warm melodies seemed to me to be an ideal for the theatre’ (Diamond 17). Playwright Dick Diamond was asked by New Theatre Director Gray to create a script around these songs. The play became a story centred around an 1891 strike focussing on a group of shearers and their wives fighting conditions such as the refusal to recognize the Shearer’s Unions and the use of strike breakers. The play is a remembrance of the solidarity and strength of unions as well as a celebratory musical informed by a sense of tradition and labour history through the use of songs whose origins are unclear. Ian Turner’s Historical Introduction to the Reedy River script issued in 1970 begins to place it within its cultural context. Reedy River has its own history. In the years after World War II, the labour movement recaptured some of that radical nationalism which had flowed through The Bulletin, The Boomerang and The Worker, the papers most favoured by bush workers. One part of this was a new interest in bush ballads. Dick Diamond’s play was in part a product of that interest – but as well it gave an enormous impetus to the ballads. Bush music groups and folklore societies were formed in the wake of Reedy River, to collect and perform songs such as those in this play. It was this which ensured for Australian traditional songs a place in the folksong revival. (Turner 1970: viii) Turner’s introduction confirms the importance of the transformation of the 1890s into the 1950s for the left. It is important to recall that 1954 was the 100th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade rebellion, another major reference point for the nationalist movement in general and the left in particular. The Eureka Stockade made a profound effect on our country – not only on the political and economic front, but culturally. Our best traditions of mateship and the spirit of struggle of the labour movement have sprung from the days of the Stockade.… The 100 years since Eureka have been fine and splendid in the history of the Australian people and particularly in the history of our labour movement. Our writers, poets, and musicians have always helped and inspired our people forward.… From our experience with ‘Reedy River’ this is a most important aspect for cultural workers to-day, but we must see that the heroes of to-day aren’t forgotten because we perhaps can see more clearly our heroes of yesterday – but on the contrary – knowing our past better, should help us to see to-day’s living heroes more plainly, and to depict them as more rounded and fuller human beings. (Hampson 1954: 1) Here Miriam Hampson, writing in the 1954 edition of New Theatre’s National Spotlight, contextualizes Reedy River as part of a resurgence in nationalism which turned to the folk arts for inspiration. In a personal interview Bob Mathews recalled that one of the most popular films that the Realist Film Association screened was entitled Folk Dances and Ballet (pre-1940s), a ten-minute production of the Central Newsreel Studio, Moscow, which included a performance by the Ukrainian Song and Dance Ensemble of the Donbas Miners. This film’s popularity points
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to the way that the New Theatre participated in the international fervour of the folk art revival. Importantly, Reedy River was also phenomenally successful, stretching its appeal outside left circles to a general audience. Rees writes that ‘Reedy River in due course reached all State capitals and in 1959 the New Theatre of Sydney … estimated that no fewer that 130,000 Australians had seen it’ (Rees 1973: 484). The play also went to London and was performed by the Unity Theatre. Colin Chambers, in his history of Unity Theatre says that the play ‘was described by Unity as “the working man’s Oklahoma”’ (Chambers 1989: 338). In ‘New Theatre movement’, Mona Brand recalls that the Sydney production recorded an album of ‘Excerpts from Reedy River’ which was released on the Diaphron label and ‘soon became a hit when played over a number of radio stations’ (Brand 1978b: 19). The currency of folk ballads for the left in the 1950s was responded to by Holmes in his first feature film, Captain Thunderbolt (1953), which can be read as another example of these international, intertextual folk relations. Like Reedy River, this film can be traced through its remaking of a popular radical folk legend via folksong and short story. Captain Thunderbolt, Holmes recalls, was inspired by Frank Clune’s 1948 book Wild Colonial Boys (Holmes 1986: 36–37), and certainly by the folksong of the same name which was later included in Wannan’s anthology and provides the basic narrative as well as its theme song. The radicalism that people like Clune and Wannan identified in ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ can also be understood in international terms. Ward traces ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ back to a series of ‘Donahoe’ ballads that existed in Castlemaine, Victoria and Castlemaine, Eire as well as the United States and Canada. ‘When Donahoe made his escape,’ the ballad tells us, ‘to the bush he went straightaway.’ Here is the implicit assumption that bushmen, as such are the true Australians, and that to defy authority, in the shape of ‘Government’, policeman, squatters, and rich men generally, is a natural and noble act. Yet this rebellious and independent attitude does not imply an individualistic outlook but rather the reverse. The Wild Colonial Boy is the folk-hero par excellence precisely because he is the romanticised and idealised portrait of any and every wild colonial bush youth. (Ward 1956: 292) Bushranger ballads went hand-in-glove with 1890s folk culture and reemerged again in the 1950s as part of a larger rural idealization, including the kind of radical anti-authoritarianism represented by the Bulletin writers at the turn of the century because, as Ward asserts, a song such as ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ ‘embodies an attitude to life which came to be considered distinctively Australian’ (Ward 1956: 292). Stuart Cunningham identifies in Captain Thunderbolt ‘international stylistic ensembles virtually untouched in the Australian cinema’ including ‘Soviet Social-class typage’ (Cunningham 1987: 94).
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It is undoubtedly the best treatment of the highly censored ‘bushranger’ theme in the Australian cinema. It displays economical narratorial control with strong, even flashy, trans-sequential linking devices – the gun aimed at the spectator, shock pans and cuts, musical riffs, and the ‘Wild Colonial Boy’ montage sequence – and emphatic cutaways, lighting effects, framing and camera movement. The Ward and Blake escape sequence, amongst many other moments in this film and Three in One, is a masterly example of this stylistic confidence that demonstrates that Holmes could not only quote from the international art and political cinema traditions but appropriate them for the purposes of politicising a central ‘national fiction’, bushranging. (Cunningham 1987: 95) Captain Thunderbolt can also be understood as part of a tradition of Australian bushranger films that dominated early production. These films included The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), Robbery Under Arms (1907), Thunderbolt (1910), Moonlite (1910), Ben Hall and his Gang (1911), Captain Midnight, the Bush King (1911), Frank Gardiner, the King of the Road (1911), Captain Starlight, or Gentleman of the Road (1911), A Tale of the Australian Bush (1911) and A Bushranger’s Ransom or a Ride for a Life (1911). Far from being apolitical, as Cunningham seems to imply, this tradition can be understood as a filmic rendition of the ‘radical’ attitudes espoused in the Bulletin. The heroes of the bushranging films are clearly radical in their struggle against authority.… Though they were always caught and forced to pay the penalty in the last reel, their actions were often presented along the way in such a sympathetic light that Victorian moral standards were offended. Many of the bushrangers were Irish, antagonistic to their English colonial masters, but without any hope of returning to their native land, so forced to an early identification with Australian nationalism. (Bertrand 1989: 7) ‘The Bushranger’ is also the title of the first chapter of Wannan’s The Australian which includes the already mentioned ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ as well as the ‘Ballad of Ben Hall’, ‘The Ballad of Jack Power’ and ‘Ned Kelly, Folk-Hero’. Another inclusion in Wannan’s The Australian in the chapter entitled ‘Early trade unionism’ is Henry Lawson’s ‘Freedom on the Wallaby’ which forms part of Holmes’s documentary Words for Freedom (1956), another filmic tributary into Three in One. To proceed with a discussion of the folk revival it will be useful to narrow the scope of the discussion by examining the manner in which Henry Lawson functioned as both a source of nationalism and a substantial figure in left cultural production, as it reemerged in the 1950s. This combination can be traced back to Lawson’s role in configuring the bush as a source of the unifying notion of mateship. Holmes’s employment of Lawson can be understood in the light of the rediscovery of the 1890s in the late 1940s and 1950s. Robin Gollan traces the left’s recourse to writers like Lawson in words that sound like a description of the thematics of Three in One.
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A new society needed to be built on the foundations of something already existing. What were available were the symbols of the 1890s: mateship as a way of life and a virtue, the manly independence of the common man, aversion to the English upper classes and their Australian epigones, the harshness of the bush and idealisation of those who, by coming to terms with it, had conquered it. In their search for a national identity in the 1920s Vance Palmer and his circle had rediscovered the nineties. In the 1940s they were resurrected again. Lawson and Furphy were the subjects of frequent critical appraisal in Meanjin, and writers who had in the main moved their characters from the bush to the city in response to changes in Australian society expounded and approved the same moral values. The common man was the legatee and bearer of Australian democracy. (Gollan 1975: 195) Gollan’s words indicate the importance not only of writers like Lawson to the left but also of the relationship between the signifiers ‘bush’ and ‘city’ and the international focus that can be placed on the ‘1890s’. Henry Lawson, Graeme Davison writes, was ‘one strand in a broader movement during the 1890s to make the rural interior a focus of Australian ideals’ (Davison 1978: 191). Lawson claimed he had ‘insisted on the capital B for “Bush”’(Davison 1978: 191). Yet Davison’s emphasis is on the manner in which the Bulletin writers, like Lawson, were part of ‘an urban intelligentsia’. All but a few of the Bulletin’s staple contributors and most occasional ‘correspondents’ lived in the coastal cities, especially Sydney and Melbourne, though only a handful had apparently grown up there. The most outstanding group – Henry Lawson, Bernard O’Dowd, Edward Dyson, A.G. Stephens, the Lindsays – came as fortune-seekers from the declining goldfields, their intellectual interests kindled by small-town self-improvement societies. (Davison 1978: 192) Davison points out that the effect the large cities of Australia had on these ‘impressionable, ambitious young men’ (Davison 1978: 192) who lived a hard, lonely life in rooming houses ‘cut adrift from “domestic influences”’ (Davison 1978: 193) led to the creation of ‘an increasingly dismal view of the city and the rise of the bush ideal’ (Davison 1978: 202). In this configuration Davison points to the influence of ‘the London context’ (Davison 1978: 201). The city depicted in the writings of the Bulletin school is one that a dispassionate historian would find hard to recognise in contemporary photographs of Sydney’s dishevelled townscape. But their lurid imagery, we must remember, was more symbolic than photographic, and owed less to observation of the Sydney scene than to the rich stock of urban imagery which the Bulletin’s ‘hard-reading crowd’, along with other colonial city-dwellers, imported from London. (Davison 1978: 200) Davison locates ‘three styles of urban image making, each firmly rooted in the London context’ (Davison 1978: 201). First was ‘the pervasive influence of Charles Dickens’s rich, but essentially
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segmental and antipathetic, view of London’ which ‘as bookish schoolboys in the 1860s and 1870s the Bulletin writers naturally fell under’ (Davison 1978: 201). Lawson, in particular, took Dickens as a model for urban description. Davison writes that ‘his friend Jack Brereton recalled how “Lawson and I used to wander into all sorts of queer corners and neglected backwaters of Sydney, and he pointed out to me the localities which he fancifully associated with the one novelist with whose work he was fairly familiar, Charles Dickens”’ (Davison 1978: 201). A second influence was the work of George Robert Sims, a London journalist whose How the Poor Live and Horrible London (1883) and Dagonet Ballads, ‘a book of light verse dramatising the condition of the London poor’, was seen as a major influence. His verse was reprinted in the Bulletin ‘on several occasions’ (Davison 1978: 201). Third, Davison asserts that the ‘tradition of rhetorical, quasi-religious verse which descended through Blake and Shelley, persisted in Chartism and returned in the radical movements of the 1870s and 1880s’ (Davison 1978: 202). For Dickens, the city was mainly a theatre of human character; with Sims, it was a cause of human degradation; but among the radical poets it became a gigantic symbol of corruption and exploitation invested with the apocalyptic shades of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Davison 1978: 202) Further the ‘urban conflicts of the 1890s’ including the 1890 Maritime Strike, ‘became a frontier of class conflict’ (Davison 1978: 204), galvanized a range of left sectional groups, including writers and intellectuals and ‘laid an ideological basis for the “egalitarian” and “collectivist” elements of the bush ethos and began the transformation of socialism into “being mates”’ (Davison 1978: 205). The 1890s have been rightly interpreted, by Russel Ward, Vance Palmer and others, as a watershed in the creation of an ‘Australian Legend’. But that ‘apotheosis’, as Ward calls it, was not the transmission to the city of values nurtured on the bush frontier, so much as the projection onto the outback of values revered by an alienated intelligentsia. (Davison 1978: 208) Lawson, A.G. Stephens and the Bulletin more generally, have been understood in relation to nationalism and its concomitant xenophobia. But, as Ken Stewart points out, Stephens’ ‘masculinist bush nationalism, anti-academicism, anti-Englishness, and hare-brained eugenics co-existed with an internationalism that valued and promoted contemporary and “classical” American, European and British writing’ (Stewart 1996: 9). In the biography, Henry Lawson: a Life, Colin Roderick notes the manner in which Lawson was dogged by comparisons with American ‘local colourist’ Bret Harte, including reviews of While the Billy Boils where ‘again Bret Harte cropped up, albeit with some qualification: “the Californian thought of the story before anything else, the Australian of the human document”’ (Roderick 1999: 183). Harte’s early sketches of the California goldfields provide some comparison with Lawson’s images of working men. Harte’s ‘The Luck of Roaring Camp’, ‘The Outcasts of Poker Flat’ and ‘Tennessee’s Partner’ preempt Lawson’s ideal of a masculine community struggling against the elements.
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While in another review Roderick claims, ‘Rudyard Kipling materialised like Banquo’s ghost: “Mr Lawson is a less experienced writer than Mr Kipling, and more unequal, but there are two or three sketches in this volume which for vigour and truth can hold their own with even so great a rival”’ (Roderick 1993: 183). These international aspects of Lawson’s persona in particular and the 1890s more generally open out what is often considered to be a source of true Australian identity onto the universal or global context to which Holmes refers in the personal interview. Directed by Holmes and financed by The Tribune workers newspaper, the ‘voice of the progressive movement and the unemployed’, Words for Freedom is a history of the workers press in Australia. The film is also a romantic survey of union achievements and worker solidarity, from the Eureka Stockade. There are many references to Henry Lawson as well as to the story of Max Thomas and Thomas Ratliff, imprisoned in 1942 for being Communist Party members. It is possible to read the opening scenes of Words for Freedom as a convergence of most of the complex intertextual tracings that I have been addressing and in doing this it is possible to understand the film as a precursor to Three in One. Over images of rural pastures and grazing sheep the opening of Words for Freedom introduces the New Theatre influence with the accompaniment of Palmer and Jacob’s ‘Ballad of ‘91’ written for Reedy River (the version in the film seems to be from the Diaphron recording, ‘Excerpts from Reedy River’).
The price of wool was falling in 1891; The men who owned the Acres saw something must be done: ‘We will break the shearers union and show we’re masters still, And they’ll take the terms we give them or we’ll find the men who will!’
The images of sheep farming continue as Leonard Teale reads Lawson’s ‘Freedom on the Wallaby’:
Australia’s a big country An’ Freedom’s humping bluey, An’ Freedom’s on the Wallaby, Oh! don’t you hear ‘er cooey. She’s just begun to boomerang She’ll knock the tyrants silly, She’s going to light another fire And boil another billy. (Qtd in Wannan 1959: 206–7)
The final stanzas are read over an image of a swagman accompanied by his dog, tending a campfire. The film then cuts to a contemporary construction site, where a worker is being raised up on a girder by a crane. Teale’s narration written by Dorothy Hewett continues:
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Now freedom doesn’t have a swag He brings the bag of tools A copy of the new award And well-thumbed union rules He fights for bread and peace and life He drives the bosses silly He sells The Tribune on the job While the Peggy boils the billy
With these last lines the camera tilts up to an image of clouds and then cuts to a cloudless sky. The camera begins to tilt down as the sound of ‘Click Go the Shears’ emerges on the soundtrack over images of a crowd and a banner with ‘The Tribune’ written on it. We then see various shots in a rural location, of families and a volleyball match, then The Bushwackers Band performing. An ‘official’ looking man begins a speech on a stage. ‘The Year 1954 is a notable one because it is the centenary of the Eureka Stockade. There a resounding blow was struck …’ This speech fades out to be replaced with Teale’s voice continuing with Hewett’s narration.
I imagine Henry Lawson might have sat here in the shade And listened to Lance Sharkey tell how history was made. He’d go up and shake him by the hand. The army of the rear Has become Australia’s vanguard I’m mighty pleased to hear.
(Lance Sharkey was General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia.) Words for Freedom also employs woodcut prints by Les Tanner similar to the ones employed for the covers of New Theatre Review and other left publications of the time. In this way Words for Freedom can be seen as a linking work between Captain Thunderbolt and Three in One. Alongside The Bushwackers Band, the recasting of rural idealization into contemporary Australia, and the radical nationalism stemming from a remaking of the 1890s – the film introduces the weighty figure of Lawson that was to act as the impulse behind many aspects of Three in One, and most directly the ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ section based on Lawson’s short story ‘The Union Buries its Dead’. Adrian Mitchell remarks that Lawson’s ‘The Union Buries its Dead’ deals with ‘the emptiness of the ritual’, that ‘the story is carefully patterned, taking the reader from a bland outer level of activity (or inactivity) to an increasingly direct personal intimation of the meaning of the experience’ (Mitchell 1981: 71). Brian Matthews asserts that ‘The Union Buries its Dead’ compares well with Lawson’s ‘The Drover’s Wife’ in its ‘toneless documentation’ (Matthews 1972: 3) which, he asserts, ‘is animated by an intense, indeed an over-intense desire to depict the absolute, unadorned truth and as a result to disturb, to menace us by the horror of veracity … because he is attempting to emphasize unequivocally the intensity of an experience and a vision’ (Matthews 1972: 11). A scene at the Wool Pack Hotel is marked
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in Lawson’s story as a simple event, an interlude, while in Holmes’s version, ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’, the spectacle of the songs performed by The Bushwackers Band at the pub reads today as a representation of 1890s radical nationalism positioned within a 1950s left nationalism. The Bushwackers Band perform in Reedy River, on the Diaphron recording and in Words for Freedom. Like the comparable American group, The Weavers, they stood for the left folk revival in Australia. In this light, Graeme Turner’s comments on the scene can be extended and broadened. The film swamps the viewer with local colour; much of the longest sequence takes place in the pub, and it begins with a couple of tall tales to establish the community’s richness and humour before lurching into renditions of ‘Flash Jack from Gundagai’ and ‘Click go the Shears’. Given the amount of time that all this occupies in a twenty-minute narrative, the songs and yarns must be seen as important agents in establishing the strength and authenticity of the bush community. The individual all but disappears in this film as the community of bush mates is celebrated at length. (Turner 1986: 97–98) While Turner reads the pub sequence in terms of Lawson’s writing, it is possible to see it as a sequence emphasizing that the work belongs within a particular class cultural milieu. The film employs signs of working-class culture in its representation of mateship. Lawson’s story, the stage-like interiors and performances at the pub reference Reedy River and the New Theatre, while Ross Wood’s epic shots in the funeral march scenes recall those of Soviet cinema, such as Victor Turin’s Turksib (1929). The scene at the Wool Pack Hotel also has a facade and interior reminiscent of the hotel in an early scene in Charles Chauvel’s Heritage (1935) that James Morrison (Franklyn Bennett) is imaged in. Structurally, Morrison is somewhat similar to Tom (Edmund Allison) in Three in One particularly in relation to his offsiders. In ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ Tom has Long ‘un (Chris Kempster), Wally (Jerold Wells) and Joe (Brian Anderson) as his offsiders while in Heritage Morrison has ‘Short’ (Joe Valli) and ‘Long’ (David Ware) alongside him most of the film. ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ transforms the documentation of ‘The Union Buries its Dead’ into a celebration which in itself is a documentation of the 1950s culture out of which it arose. Through The Bushwackers extended performance of the folk songs Three in One re-reads Lawson through the folk revival of the 1950s. The second section of Three in One ‘The Load of Wood’ is based on the Frank Hardy (using the pseudonym Ross Franklin) short story of the same title originally published in 1947 and included that year in Coast to Coast, an anthology selected by M. Barnard Eldershaw. Set in a semi-rural location in the 1930s Depression, ‘The Load of Wood’ is primarily the story of Darkie and Ernie, two relief workers who borrow a truck and, in the middle of the night, steal firewood for the community in which they live. ‘The Load of Wood’ has a history of its own which is instructive because it points to the persona of Frank Hardy, a significant one for the left particularly by the time of the release of Three in One.
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By 1957 Frank Hardy was a well-known name in Australian literature. His 1950 novel, Power Without Glory had found a broad readership. Its depiction of both inner-city Melbourne and of the politics of urban life proved both popular with ‘the broad masses’ and acceptable to the left. But it was the ensuing court battle which cemented his name as an embattled literary figure whose trial, Patrick Buckridge asserts, was ‘inseparable from the politics surrounding the passage of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill (1950), and the referendum on the question in 1951’ (Buckridge 1998: 177). The importance of the trial for the left in the Cold War atmosphere was that Hardy defended a personal defamation case brought against him by the prominent Victorian politician John Wren and his wife on whom Hardy had based the characters of John and Nellie West in Power Without Glory. The idea of a renowned communist winning out against the forces of the state was a cause for celebration for the left. Due to Hardy’s selfmythologizing as a product of the 1930s Depression-era working-class suburbs of Melbourne and his apparent familiarity with this area in his rendering of them in the novel, the figure of Hardy is as germane to the imagination of Depression-era urban working-class life as Henry Lawson’s is to the 1890s bush ethos. There are also some links between the two. In The Stranger From Melbourne Paul Adams writes that Hardy ‘developed a fixation with Henry Lawson, “affecting a walrus moustache” and carrying his belongings around in a swag instead of an army pack’ (Adams 1999: 16). Hardy also wrote two plays about Lawson, ‘Faces in the Street’ and ‘Henry Larsen’. In this manner, Hardy’s ‘performance’ of Lawson recalls Denisoff’s assertions about Woody Guthrie and the performative nature of folk culture. ‘The Load of Wood’ reappeared in 1963 as part of Hardy’s collection of stories entitled Legends from Benson’s Valley. In this collection Darkie and Ernie, as well as ‘Sniffy’ Connors, Mr Tye the Shire engineer and Shire Secretary, and Coulson, the Nationalist Party member, all move through thirteen short stories set around Bacchus Marsh, Victoria where Hardy grew up. In the film, ‘The Load of Wood’ remains close to the narrative and detail of Hardy’s story, the only variations being that Hardy’s version includes Murphy, a foreman as part of the relief working party and Holmes’s version includes a meeting between Darkie and Tye and Coulson who arrive in a motor car to check on the workers. The performances of Jock Levy and Leonard Thiele in the film parallel those of the other New Theatre luminaries Edmund Allison, Chris Kempster and Reg Lye in ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’. Their performances belong to a particular discourse of Australian theatre, ‘the left’ that emerges from a particular inflection of the universal, political spectrum, at the same time resonating with a nationalist impulse that, in turn, relied on folk art and a re-reading of the 1890s. In this case, ‘The Load of Wood’ is the 1930s as it resonated in the social imaginary of the 1950s.4 Levy’s performance is particularly telling given the figure that his character, Darkie, will cut in Legends from Benson’s Valley. For example, in another story in that collection ‘Good as Ever’ the persona of the ‘massive and rough-hewn’ Darkie is extended when his daughter, Kathleen, is ‘put in the family way’ by Jimmy Younger and Darkie seeks retribution with his fists. In this story the quasi-bushranging hero of ‘The Load of Wood’ becomes larger than life, slugging it
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out in a classical tale of the ageing man of principles fighting the moral degression of the next generation. A character similar in name and appeal appears in Frank Clune’s later Wild Colonial Boys (1948). In the section constructed around ‘The Ballad of the Wild Colonial Boy’ we are introduced to ‘Daredevil’ Frank Christie who is nicknamed ‘the Darkie’, […] a youth without fear of man or God.… He is nineteen years of age. His crow-black hair hangs to his shoulders, up-curled at the ends. On his face is a straggling beardlet. His eyes are brown, and quick with intelligence. (Hardy 1967: 121) To readers of Australian literature today, Hardy’s ‘Darkie’ and Clune’s ‘Darkie’ both possess the sprightly alertness and contempt for authority that characterize the Fred Ward character (Grant Taylor) in Captain Thunderbolt, the young John West in Power Without Glory and without drawing too long a bow, perhaps the persona of Frank Hardy (and Cecil Holmes) in the minds of the left.
Perhaps more importantly, Legends from Benson’s Valley contains a near repetition of ‘The Load of Wood’ in a story entitled ‘Moments Like These …’. Here Darkie and Ernie set out for Melbourne to attend the Unemployed Workers march by jumping a train in Benson’s Valley. The similarity between this story and ‘The Load of Wood’ exists in the tension that Hardy attempts to build from Darkie and Ernie jumping the train in the middle of the night. Darkie’s bravado, Ernie’s fear of apprehension and the trade union ideal of sharing, are all part of the earlier story. This sort of rewriting, as Paul Adams argues, is a recurring component of Hardy’s method. Adams points out that Hardy’s first story ‘The Stranger in the Camp’ was similarly rewritten in Legends of Benson’s Valley as ‘The Stranger from Melbourne’. While the left embraced nationalism in the spirit of the 1890s, in particular the rural worker and landscape, Adams reads the stories through what he understands to be the social phenomenon of the decline of rural life. Adams asserts that by the 1930s, when ‘The Load of Wood’ is set, ‘Hardy’s short stories often acutely contrast discordant images of advancing industrialism and receding agrarian life’ (Adams 1999: 17). ‘The Load of Wood’ is set in Benson’s Valley – A Good Rexona Town, where ‘the rural tranquillity of the fields and the shock of the consumerist present seem equally strange because of a basic disconnection between the “old work in the meadows” and the “new towns” that have become like offensive outposts of a “Rexona” capitalist culture.’ (Adams 1999: 18). In Holmes’s ‘The Load of Wood’ the setting is a combination of rural outpost and suburban landscape. There is a sense in Holmes’s images that this landscape was once the rural ideal, now lost, and now it is the lost city ideal. In the context of Three in One ‘The Load of Wood’ provides a disconcerting departure from ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ and operates as an introduction to ‘The City’. While the theme of mateship recurs, the figure of Darkie is a solitary one extolling the virtues of community and unionism while stealing wood with Ernie for ‘squibs’ such as Sniffy Connors. Yet this tone of lament indicates the ambivalence that the left felt towards suburban life, caught as this zone was between the evils of the city and the ideals of the bush. In one sense the location of ‘The Load of Wood’ is uncertain, a meaningless zone that was a departure from the identity to be found
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in the bush. Graeme Davison notes how the 1890s writer and editor, A.G. Stephens, ‘used “suburban” as a synonym for “Mediocre”, referring to the verse of George Essex Evans as “trim and strictly suburban”’ (Davison 1978: 209). The underlying tropes for this narrative, like ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’, are the 1890s and the rural ideal. Darkie and Ernie’s journey to steal wood is also about giving meaning to the bush, in particular the settled property of the landowner Paddy Shea (Keith Howard). In this case the journey is about a struggle for identity, reclaiming the bush as a site of unspoken, performed mateship. Hardy’s original text, recalling Lawson, laments the way that the dissociation of people (men) from the land has splintered the bonds of mateship. Darkie, in his insistence on reclaiming the bush for working people in a landscape encroached upon by modernity acts out an equation of mobility and the bush that signified ‘true’ Australian identity for the left in the 1950s. In the film, this idea is imaged in a transition shot from an image of ‘modernity’ to the meaningless persona of the relief worker. After a scene at a factory where the men are told there is no work, ‘The Load of Wood’ cuts to a shot of a person’s shadow on bare earth. This image suggests a number of readings. The first is the metaphoric ‘shadow of a man’ once directly associated with the land now put into the service of the government. The next image is of this shadow having earth tipped upon it, perhaps, recalling the burial of Joe Wilson in the previous story, but also as a symbol of death. Metaphorically, Darkie, along with Ernie, rises above this burial, continuing the radical nationalist tradition of mateship while maintaining a sense of community. This community spirit is made apparent in the way that Darkie gives wood to Sniffy Connors and to Mrs Johnson (Eileen Ryan). It is also a continuation of the ideal of the (rural) community that enables the burial of Joe Wilson in the first story. Holmes follows this movement and takes up the threads of modernization and community in the last section of Three in One. ‘The City’ employs cityscapes of Sydney and the story of Ted (Brian Vicary) and Kathie (Joan Landor) in a tale of alienation and anxiety about the future. John McCallum’s introduction to this episode of the film indicates much about its concerns. Our last two stories have been about ‘the bush’, as we call it in Australia. But nowadays most Australians live in the great seaboard cities of Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney. They are very much like people who live in London, Liverpool or Manchester, have much the same problems, very much the same way of life. Our next story, written by Ralph Peterson, is a kind of modern Romeo and Juliet, about a young couple who want to get married and find it all so difficult. The original Romeo and Juliet, you remember, had trouble with their in-laws. Well, these youngsters have different difficulties but you’ll see a glimpse of life as it is lived in 1956 in this big, exciting, tough city of Sydney where close on two million people live and love, work and play everyday. Hope you like it. Clearly the film is aimed at an international, or more specifically English, audience who can translate the story of Ted and Kathie into their own settings. Although McCallum likens the
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section to Shakespearean tragedy, ‘The City’, as he also indicates, is more about city life as an international (or English) phenomenon than anything else. In understanding ‘The City’ as corresponding with a whole host of other filmic and literary texts, the film is available to the same kind of intertextual reading that was performed with ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ and ‘The Load of Wood’. ‘The City’ begins at dawn with the vagrant (John Fernside) rising from his bed of newspaper, images of streets being swept and Kathie waking and heading off to work. Sitting beside Kathie on the train as she travels into the city is a blind man. The film closes with Ted and Kathie reunited as the blind man passes them at Central train station and the same vagrant makes his bed of newspaper as night closes in. This symmetry corresponds with (and the title of this section recalls) the strong documentary tradition of ‘city’ films, mentioned in the previous chapter. Many of these films represent a day in the life of a city from dawn to dusk. The Man With the Movie Camera (1929), for example, commences the portrait of the city with the opening of shutters, blinds and doors at day break and concludes with their closing at the end of the day. (It also contains an image of a vagrant sleeping under newspapers.) ‘The City’ can be seen as an invocation of neo-realism distilled through Holmes’s left-wing politics. As Sylvia Lawson points out in her article ‘Not for the likes of us’ with reference to Raymond Longford and Tal Ordell, Australian cinema had been able to produce a way of imaging ‘its wharves, markets, streets and slum terraces, its way of lounging on corners and gossiping at fences’ that preempted the emergence of the term ‘neo-realism’ (Lawson 1965: 154). In an interview with Graham Shirley, Holmes himself pointed to his own interest in the cinema of De Sica and Rossellini, which was probably a result of the increased availability of European films after the war due to two factors: first, the film societies (often emerging, as in Melbourne, from initiatives by the left), and second, as a result of post-war ‘internationalism’, a continuation of the North American and European global concern set in train by the ‘world’ war. Comparisons can be made with films such as Roberto Rossellini’s somewhat episodic Paisà (1946), the compendium work Love in the City (1953) and Vittoria De Sica’s Gold of Naples (1955) which begins with lines similar to McCallum’s for ‘The City’: ‘We will only show you a tiny part of the city but in it you will find equal parts of the love of life, the patience and undying hope which are the gold of Naples’. These Italian films are strong reference points for Holmes’s film as well as major contributions to the continuing discourse of the city film. Gold of Naples contains six brief sketches all directed by De Sica employing a host of then famous Italian actors including De Sica, Toto, Eduardo de Fillipo and Sophia Loren. These unconnected stories are all about ordinary situations ranging from the deeply tragic, such as the funeral parade of a child along Naples’ Via Grande in ‘Funeralino’ and the ill-fated arranged marriage in ‘Teresa’, to the more comic efforts of Don Saverio Petrillo (Toto) to expel an unwanted boarder in ‘Il Guappo’ and Sophia’s (Sophia Loren) loss of her wedding ring in ‘Pizze a Credito’. The sense of the ordinary and the everyday that such neo-realist films took as their subject matter enabled these films to be understood as representing authentic experience much in the same way that folk culture did.
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In some ways the ‘The City’ corresponds very well with Walter Greenwood’s 1933 British bestseller, Love on the Dole, which was released as a film, directed by John Baxter, in 1941, and was rewritten by Norman Gow as a play and performed by Melbourne New Theatre on 12 October 1946 (O’Brien 1989: 146). Although Love on the Dole is a Depression-era novel set in a fictional northern British industrial city called Hankey Park, it has several aspects in common with ‘The City’. John Baxter’s film, Love on the Dole has at its centre a family, the Hardcastles, in particular the two children Harry (Geoffrey Hibbert) and Sally (Deborah Kerr), whose abject social conditions determine their fate. Harry and Sally’s lives slowly crumble apart as the Depression worsens affecting their love lives – in particular, Harry with Helen (Joyce Howard) and Sally with the local sickly Labour Party candidate Larry Meath (Clifford Evans). Like ‘The City’ Love on the Dole seems to be about the influence of economic conditions on the personal lives of the protagonists. For example, Helen becomes pregnant by Harry before they are married and they have no place to live, a circumstance not unlike Ted and Kathie’s dilemma in ‘The City’. At times in Love on the Dole Harry and Helen and Sally and Larry are imaged away from Hankey Park in quasi-utopian moments. After donning the new suit that his mother has purchased with a loan, Harry meets Helen outside the industrial centre where they converse about the possibilities of a life with money away from where they live. Rhyming with this scene is the one where Sally and Larry go on a ‘ramble in the country’. After reaching the summit of a hillside, the couple settle into a picturesque landscape complete with overarching boughs and sheep grazing in the background, Sally remarks ‘I never knew anywhere could be so lovely. It doesn’t seem as though this and Hankey Park can be the same world.’ Sally’s words clearly evoke the rural ideal of Englishness that Boyes addresses, itself a local variant of an ‘international’ tendency, as we have seen. But Love on the Dole, like ‘The City’, is intended to represent international experience. The opening titles confirm this. On the outskirts of every City there is a region of darkness and poverty where men and women forever strive to live decently in the face of overwhelming odds never doubting that the clouds of depression will one day be lifted. Such a district was Hankey Park in March 1930. As in ‘The City’, the character’s dilemmas are constructed by the text as universal ones, and both films call for people to overcome these conditions through unity. The already mentioned hillside conversation between Sally and Larry concludes on a high utopian moment. Sally professes ignorance of ideas about why people live the way they do in Hankey Park to which Larry responds by saying ‘I suppose if you’ve lived in a place that is ugly all your life things that are beautiful seem out of reach, and then we get to thinking they’re too good for us. That’s the trouble. That’s what we’ve got to fight.’ Sally says ‘I wish I could’. Larry replies ‘You can Sal. You must. If only everybody lent a hand’. The camera then tracks up into a shot of drifting white clouds as the orchestral score completes the poignancy of the conversation.
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This utopian ideal of unity feeds into another point of comparison which is the discourse of left nationalism that saw the emergence of John Baxter’s 1941 film version of Greenwood’s novel. In ‘The ‘other cinema’ in Britain’, Sylvia Harvey alludes to a process of censorship causing eight years ‘elapse between the novel’s publication and the time [the film] first became available to filmgoers’ (Harvey 1986: 226–7). Harvey lists the same BBFC regulations that Ken Coldicutt quoted which listed ‘forbidden subjects’ pertaining to the censorship of the film: Relations between capital and labour … inciting of workers to armed conflict … industrial violence and unrest; conflicts between the armed forces of a state and the populace … scenes showing soldiers or police firing on a defenceless population … objectionably misleading themes purporting to illustrate parts of the British Empire, [or representing] British possessions as lawless or iniquitous. (Harvey 1986: 227) The film’s release in 1941 was a result of a wartime relaxation of censorship and a push towards what Peter Stead asserts was a suggestion ‘that at last Britain was to break through to a socially significant cinema’ (Stead 1988: 72). Yet, as Stead points out, Love on the Dole was a curious exception to the trend that was to follow. Philip M. Taylor in the introduction to his Britain and the Cinema in the Second World War, discusses the film’s appearance in relation to the war effort: Since a major theme of British domestic propaganda was that it was to be a ‘people’s’ war, films depicting the working classes in a serious rather than comical light were now allowed.… The working classes were, after all, not only the very people who thrived on the cinema, but also the very members of the community who would now be called upon to fight the war. (Taylor 1988: 9) At the same time, it should also be remembered that the British documentary movement influenced the depiction of working people on screen. Jack C. Ellis comments in The Documentary Idea that, more than ten years prior to this, John Grierson’s Drifters (1929) had celebrated the everyday, and that the working class is given some dignity in that film, albeit from a somewhat patronizing viewpoint (Ellis 1989: 65). Like Love on the Dole, ‘The City’, and by extension the whole of Three in One, is interested in providing a portrait of an interconnected network of mateship which supports the rural and working-class protagonists of the film and like Baxter’s film, Holmes’s ‘The City’ emerges partly as result of a nationalist impulse. Another point of reference for ‘The City’ is the J.B. Priestley play, They Came to a City. Popular with left audiences world-wide, the play had first been performed at London’s Globe Theatre in 1943, Melbourne New Theatre produced it in 1946 and a film version of it, starring John McCallum’s wife, Googie Withers, who performed in the initial stage production, was directed for Ealing Studios by Basil Dearden, a onetime member of the Grierson group, in 1944. In Priestley’s play a group of people of various ages and classes, in particular a young couple Alice and Joe, meet outside the walls of a mythical, utopian city. At the commencement of Act
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2, Alice’s response to her visit explains the vague, progressive values that the idea of the city in Priestley’s play holds. I’ve always hoped, in a silly sort of way, for something wonderful just round the corner. But I never thought there was a place as good as this. I didn’t think people had it in them to build a city like this. I never really thought people could work and play together like these people can. I’ll do anything for these people. I’ll die for this place. (Priestly 1960: 182) The dilemma for the protagonists of They Came to a City is whether to stay in the utopian city or return to the places where they come from. The final scenes, which belong to Alice and Joe who have fallen in love, extend Alice’s earlier soliloquy from the personal to the social and political and bear comparison with Holmes’s ‘The City’. Joe convinces Alice that they must return to the places from which they came as emissaries, people who have experienced the utopia of the city and can change, in Joe’s words ‘human nature’ and will make ‘this world a better place to live in’. Joe concludes the play with the following lines. Yes. Like our city. Where men and women don’t work for machines and money, but machines and money work for men and women – where greed and envy and hate have no place – where want and disease and fear have vanished for ever – where nobody carries a whip and nobody rattles a chain. Where men have at last stopped mumbling and gnawing and scratching in dark caves and have come out into the sunlight. And nobody can ever darken it for them again. They’re out and free at last. I dreamt in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth, I dreamt that was the new city of Friends. (Priestly 1960: 201) Holmes’s ‘The City’ is not a utopian ideal but it does seem to contain the kernel of the kind of communal utopia around which Priestly’s city is built: the Australian ideal of mateship. Kathie and Ted’s problem stems from the economic pressure exerted by life under industrial capitalism. Both characters work in jobs that don’t return enough means to buy a house or even to eat at Kathie’s ideal restaurant. In the name of efficiency their respective bosses also give them little lee-way, such as time to have a telephone conversation. The restraints imposed on Ted’s desire for Kathie lead to an argument about their inability to afford the deposit for a house to live in if they marry. In a pivotal scene Ted and Kathie are lying in a park when Ted oversteps Kathie’s limits on love-making, which leads to a discussion of the difficulties for people in affording accommodation. The conversation shifts to the topic of sex. Ted asks ‘What’s the use of going around together if we can’t have a little fun every so often? Everybody does,’ to which Kathie replies ‘That’s not how I want it. I just want to get married. That’s all. Well, there’s nothing wrong in that is there? And if you don’t seem to think we can wait until then, I don’t see any point in us going around together any more’. The fulfilment of sexual desire is made contingent upon the possession of a house, and the repression of the system, the inability to buy a house and marry, is expressed as sexual repression, at a deeply personal level. After the argument, Kathie storms off into the night. And then the film shifts into a nightmarish world that in two particular sequences invokes two other filmic discourses.
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Initially Kathie is imaged running towards the camera in a long shot beneath Sydney Harbour Bridge. Later she is imaged inside a brick walled tunnel where she is harassed by two American men. Both sequences are full of shadows intended to indicate limitation and being constricted, in a highly composed depth of field. Kathie is immersed in the city, unable to escape it. It is possible to understand the shots to be reminiscent of some German expressionist films, French poetic realist films, or American film noir. Claustrophobic framing devices such as doors, windows, staircases, metal bedframes, or simply shadows separate the character from other characters, from his world, or from his own emotions. And objects seem to push their way into the foreground of the frame to assume more power than the people. (Place and Peterson 1976: 335) In one of these shots Kathie’s figure is centred, in the road, framed by a concrete and steel structure. Place and Peterson also assert that noir mise-en-scène ‘is designed to unsettle, jar and disorient the viewer’ (Place and Peterson 1976: 333). In the first sequence this effect is brought about by the off-angle montage which is accompanied by an industrial soundtrack. These shots and the soundtrack rhyme with a parallel sequence in the film involving Ted. The most overt example of this notion of the mechanized life of the city controlling lives and repressing desire occurs when Ted boards a taxi to take him to the central railway station to catch up with Kathie and implores the driver to ignore a red light they have encountered. ‘Lights are lights and you just can’t hurry them’ says the driver. Ted replies, ‘But this is important!’. ‘So’s my licence. The lights’ll tell us when we can go,’ says the driver, and then, ‘Look, I tell you machines are taking over’. Prior to this, Luna Park’s smiling-mouth opening appears as a monstrous snarling visage as does the flapping mouth of a pelican within the amusement park. These images of metropolitan menace provide some resonance with a previously mentioned documentary classic of left film culture, Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke’s The City (1939). In spite of its title, less of a ‘city film’ than the films already mentioned, Steiner and Van Dyke’s film begins as a narrationless montage critique of modernism out of control. Traffic jams, filthy crowded streets and the industrial age of pollution and noise invoke a strong sense of claustrophobia and alienation which form one part of the bipolar opposition that forms the basis of the film’s thesis. The City proposes that the images of children playing in gutters, smoke stacks spewing waste and people living their lives at the mercy of a mechanized age, has its answer in a kind of suburban, semi-rural ideal. Like the Realist Film Unit’s In My Beginning, The City presents a sense of community based on a rural ideal directly associated with healthy bodies and minds. For Steiner and Van Dyke, the ordinary city is a product of capitalism out of control, of mechanized living conditioning lifestyles and alienating people from each other. These are the same pressures that the narrative of Holmes’s ‘The City’ blames for the plight of Ted and Kathie. Shirley and Adams insist that in this last section of the film ‘away from the solidarity of Ted’s fellow workers, life in the city is shown to lack the sense of mateship that has sustained the protagonists of “Joe Wilson’s Mates” and “The Load of Wood”’ (Shirley and Adams 1989:
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190). Yet the incidents of mateship that emerge amid the confusion of Sydney at night are intended to portray the existence of mateship apparent in the other sections. As Shirley and Adams suggest, one important relationship of this sort is the one between Ted and Al (Gordon Glenwright) who work together in the General Motors Holden plant. Al acts as Ted’s mate, ‘squaring off’ for him when the boss asks his whereabouts when Ted is telephoning Kathie to arrange their date. Similarly Freda (Betty Lucas) warns Kathie about ‘ the cow [who] tore strips off Mavis the other day for making a private call’ and attends to a demanding customer in the frock department, covering for Kathie when she is speaking with Ted about their date. However, ‘The City’ does provide other episodes of mateship for both Kathie and Ted. Kathie is saved by a cab driver (Ken Wayne) from the two Americans who attempt to lure her into a car in the darkened underpass. The cab driver then delivers a monologue about his life in the city. ‘Ah the game’s stacked all along the line. The little bloke just can’t win. [As Kathie goes to pay] No, no forget it. Glad to’ve been able to help. Sorry for giving you such an ear bashing’. Like Darkie in ‘The Load of Wood’, this cabbie represents a strong sense of individuality along with a communitarian conscience. Later, Al miraculously appears out of a hospital and tells Ted that his (Al’s) wife has just given birth to a boy after ten years and five daughters. Al and Ted go to the Grose Farm Hotel to ‘wet the baby’s head’, and this communal activity in turn leads to a discussion of Ted and Kathie’s dilemma, culminating with Al offering to have a ‘whip around’ for Ted and Kathie ‘to get something for you towards a bit of land’ in the spirit of mateship. ‘Anyhow, what’s the point in being alive if you can’t give someone a hand every now and then?’ As this conversation proceeds, Kathie looks in shop windows at wedding dresses and rings and passes an advertisement for land for sale for £600 that would ‘suit young couples’, effecting a cinematic community with the men in the pub. In these two sequences it is possible to see some elements that recall ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ in particular the ‘spirit of the 90s’ that the first section is steeped in when the city and the bush are melded together in ‘The City’. This convergence occurs in scenes such as Al and Ted’s conversation occurring at the Grose Farm Hotel – the Great Farm Hotel, and in the idea that Ted and Kathie will buy ‘a bit of land’. The Cab driver also draws the city and the bush together in his tale of post-war job search that took him from the itinerant worker of the bush like the shearer to the mobile mechanized cab driver in a continuum of ‘the little bloke’. He begins the already mentioned monologue to Kathie by saying, Being your own boss is something. I just drifted into the cab game. Yeah after the war took a whole lot of jobs, just drifted around took a job here a job there. Seven jobs in five years I had, can you imagine that? You know what I mean like it’s hard to settle down when you’ve been away for so long. Worked in the bush for a while, decided to take up shearing. Yeah oh that’s hard yakka that. Those logs that talk about shearing being an easy cop oughta try it some time. Anyhow things started to get a bit better but I never saw no forty or fifty a week. While Ted’s cabbie is a product of capitalism, a machine within the mechanized city, Kathie’s cabbie is a much more sympathetic individualist with communal ideals. In this way he is comparable
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to Ted’s friend Al, who is also an individualist able to rise above the production line that he works on to maintain a community of workers, like the union that Tom propounds in ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ and the unemployed that Darkie leads and benefits from in ‘The Load of Wood’. This repetition of characters and communities can be understood as Holmes’s intention to remake Henry Lawson and the attendant ‘spirit of the 90s’ mediated through the figure of Frank Hardy and his Depression-era communism. Holmes then translates what were understood to be the positive values that these two represented in the figure of Ted’s cabbie and Al. In this schema it is possible to see Holmes himself – like Hardy – as a replication of Lawson, a city intellectual locating ‘the bush’ as the origin of the values of mateship that Al and the cabbie personify. Despite Three in One’s supposed encapsulation of the ‘Australian’ ideals of mateship in the name of nationalism, the figure that Holmes had cut in Australian left circles was of obvious concern to the censors. The film was never given a major theatrical release in Australia. In One Man’s Way Holmes writes, ‘the censor tried, vainly, to suppress “The Load of Wood” on the ostensible grounds that it would encourage crime. But we all knew the real reason. Julian [Rose] had some good connections in the film trade and buoyantly went out to close some deals. He got nowhere’ (Holmes 1986: 41). Pike and Cooper claim, in words which recall the concerns expressed by the Realists [t]he major distributors and exhibitors rejected it, perhaps because of uneasiness about Holmes’s left-wing commitment, clearly apparent in the film and also in his involvement in the distribution of Russian films in Australia through New Dawn Films [a foreign language distribution company Holmes had set up] ; but at the same time, the trade was inhibited by its commitment to British and American interests. (Pike and Cooper 1980: 293) Holmes is referring to the control that British and American interests had over exhibition and distribution in this country. Holmes recalls how despite these setbacks Rose ‘despatched me abroad, with the cans under my arm, to sell the thing; we’ll show these bastards here, do the rounds of the European film festivals, and try the English market’ (Holmes 1986: 41). This strategy obviously worked with the film screening at the 1956 Karlovy Vary and Edinburgh film festivals, winning at the former, according to Holmes ‘best film by a young director, largely as a result of the efforts of one of the judges, Alberto Cavalcanti’ (Holmes 1986: 42–43). This award and screenings led to sales to North America, Britain, Rumania, China, New Zealand, Sweden and France. In a 1956 Sight and Sound review of the Edinburgh Film Festival John Maddison wrote Certainly Three in One (as perhaps only John Heyer’s [The] Back of Beyond [which achieved a Diploma at Edinburgh in 1954] has really done before) suggests that Australian film-makers have at hand the kind of material from which a ‘living cinema’, rooted in a particular scene and way of life, might be created. (Maddison 1956: 82) In the next chapter I will consider the films of John Heyer with an eye to the kind of material he had at hand; the international discourse of the landscape documentary, in particular the work of Harry Watt, Pare Lorentz, Joris Ivens, and Robert Flaherty.
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Notes 1. Paisà (1946), Love in the City (1953) and Gold of Naples (1955) are among the films that Shirley and Adams are referring to when they mention that Three in One is one of the ‘portmanteau films [which] were then in vogue’. These will be discussed later in this chapter. There were other such films including Max Ophuls’ La Ronde (1950) and the French/Italian production The Seven Deadly Sins (1952). It is possible to consider the portmanteau a British post-war speciality notably the filmic renditions of Somerset Maugham stories in Quartet (1948), Trio (1950), and Encore (1951), as well as Phone Call from a Stranger (1952). 2. The positioning of Hardy’s story in the middle suggests that Holmes and Rose believed it to be the weaker of the three and lacked the impact needed to open or close the film. 3. At the 1998 Cultural Studies Association of Australia Conference it was pointed out to me by Roslyn Poignant (a contemporary of Holmes) that the term I had chosen to describe this milieu, ‘global’, was not historically specific and that the terms ‘universal’ and ‘international’ were more appropriate because they were the ones employed by the left at the time in their understanding of this cultural network. 4. The New Theatres in Melbourne and Sydney have a history of the utilization of theatrical resources, including personnel, in film production. The earliest indications of this began when the Realist Film Unit in 1946 began experimenting with the filming of stage productions. The New Theatres in both cities, through their connection with London’s Unity Theatre, imported and produced many one-act plays. The Realist Film Unit and New Theatre member Bob Mathews recalls that one of the first uses made of the 16mm camera he bought when the Unit was set up was in filming the New Theatre productions including Lope de Vega’s Spanish Village, Ted Willis’ God Bless the Guv’nor, J.B. Priestley’s They Came To a City and Walter Greenwood and Ronald Gow’s Love On The Dole. These 1946 experiments can be seen as recordings of stage productions that, rather than of interest for their filmic qualities, constitute the commencement of the New Theatre’s involvement in film production. As we have seen, Realist Film Unit member Bob Mathews put together the Realist Film Unit’s Prices and the People using Melbourne New Theatre actors hamming it up for the camera. The productions of the Melbourne Realist Film Unit commenced the relationship that was taken over by the Sydney left theatres. The Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit, as Jock Levy points out in an interview with John Hughes and Brett Levy, grew out of what was known as the Maritime Industries Theatre. Levy elucidates. We were able to use a number of actors who were working on the waterfront. We decided to put on a play by Ewan McColl, The Travellers, and we had a very good cast. I don’t really know if it was successful or not. From it though the seeds of the Waterside Workers Film Unit were sown. While we were actually rehearsing, Keith [Gow] said, Why don’t we run a trailer to the union meetings about the play? We had access to a 16mm camera and we did it. We presented the trailer to the lunch-hour meetings … and a number of executive people (of the Sydney branch of the WWF) saw it. (Hughes and Levy 1985: 367) T he branch secretary later called and asked if a film could be made to contribute to the Federation’s campaign to obtain veterans pensions. This became the Unit’s first film Pensions for Veterans (1953) (367).
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3 John Heyer’s International Perspective: The Overlanders, The Valley is Ours, The Back of Beyond
The Back of Beyond (1954) is a documentary about a weekly mail run along the Birdsville Track, following its driver, Tom Kruse, through the numerous stations and natural obstacles along the way. John Heyer, ‘a former senior producer with the Federal Government’s Film Division (later called The Commonwealth Film Unit, now Film Australia)’ had been employed by Shell ‘to make a “prestige” documentary that would capture the essence of Australia’ (Gibson 1987: 80). Seen by an estimated 750,000 Australians in the first two years of its release and with subsequent television and film festival retrospectives and tertiary education screenings it is familiar to generations of Australians. In 1996 The Back of Beyond figured prominently in the National Film and Sound Archive’s survey of this country’s ‘key Australian films’ (Berryman 1996: 22–25). In Australian Cinema Shirley and Adams have described the film as ‘a romantic and forceful impression of life along the Track, distilling the Australian character and its environment’ (Shirley and Adams 1989: 195). In its year of release the film won the Grand Prix Assoluto at the Venice Biennale Film Festival; in 1956, the first prize, Documentary and Experimental Section at the Montevideo Film Festival and a Certificate of Merit at the Cape Town Film Festival. According to A Seat Under the Stars: A History of Shell’s Work with Film in Australia, ‘hundreds of prints were bought by countries and territories as far apart as Finland, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Canada and The Philippines’ (16). In 1968, Longmans published Eric Else’s Study Guide to the film. These circumstances indicate two things. First, the film has been understood locally as essentially ‘Australian’. Second, its international reception, particularly the Venice prize, suggests that the film was acceptable to a large variety of international audiences and, at least, made sense
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to these audiences.1 A possible reconciliation of these two seemingly disparate readings can be found if we take into account the international discourse of the landscape documentary to which The Back of Beyond belongs. Films such as Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Beaumont Schoedsack’s Grass (1925), Victor Turin’s Turksib (1929), Harry Watt and Basil Wight’s Night Mail (1936), those of Pare Lorentz, The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1937), Joris Ivens’ Power and the Land (1940), Alexander Hammid’s The Valley of the Tennessee (1944) and Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), Moana (1926), Man of Aran (1934), The Land (1942) and Louisiana Story (1948). In Australia, Harry Watt’s ‘docu-drama’ The Overlanders (1945) and Heyer’s own work for the Australian National Film Board (ANFB) including The Valley is Ours (1948). One way to understand The Back of Beyond is to examine the way in which it remakes themes and stylistic attributes common to this international group of films. The political and cultural milieu which gave rise to Australian institutional documentary production in the post-war years provides some background for this discussion. An impetus had been given to documentary production by governments such as the American Roosevelt Government’s New Deal and the John Curtin and J.B. (Ben) Chifley Labor postwar administration in Australia (1942–49). These governments, although decades apart, responded to their particular national situations in ways that bear comparison. Although The Back of Beyond is a film produced by the international petroleum company Shell, it carries the traces of institutional nation-building that runs through all of Heyer’s work including the earlier The Overlanders, on which he was second unit director, and films made at the Australian National Film Board (ANFB). One major change brought about in Australia under the Curtin and Chifley governments and in the United States under the Roosevelt Administration was a strengthening of the role of the federal government. In Australia one of the more significant creations of the Curtin Government, was the Department of Post-war Reconstruction. Geoffrey Bolton links the Department’s creation with the earlier American model. In December 1942 the Department of Post-war Reconstruction was hived off from the Department of Labour and National Service. The Ministers in charge, Chifley and (from 1945) Dedman, were among the ablest in cabinet and they were supported by an outstanding group of public servants, mainly young graduates. They created policy in an atmosphere of intellectual excitement seldom encountered in Canberra. Some of them were influenced by the ideas of Keynes and Laski. Equally, if not more, potent was the example of the United States President Franklin Roosevelt, whose New Deal legislation and sponsorship of the Tennessee Valley Authority provided a model of purposeful social engineering in a free enterprise capitalist society. (Bolton 1996: 29) Both governments were responding to rapid change in similar ways. The US in the 1930s was responding to the Depression, while for Chifley, the Second World War provided, or more precisely, demanded new initiatives. Yet, as Terry Cooney suggests, the New Deal period,
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Prices and the People (1948) Realist Film Unit. Betty Lacey (Elizabeth Coldicutt) filming 19?? May Day March in Melbourne. Courtesy Elizabeth Coldicutt and David Muir.
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Bob Mathews filming demonstration, Melbourne 19??. Courtesy Mathews family.
Prices and the People (1948) stills.
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Betty Lacey, Vic Arnold (pointing) Bob Mathews (far right) at Melbourne Film Festival at Olinda in 1952. Courtesy of Mathews family.
Cecil Holmes. Courtesy Film Australia.
Below left: John Heyer. Deane Williams collection. Below right: Ken Coldicutt. Courtesy Elizabeth Coldicutt.
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Dan McAlpine (Chips Rafferty) and Mary Parsons (Daphne Campbell in The Overlanders (1946). Courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Tom Kruse (left), William Henry Butler (right) in The Back of Beyond (1954). Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
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The Back of Beyond (1954). Deane Williams collection. Damien Parer, Maslyn Williams, Frank Hurley and George Silk. Courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
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Top and Bottom: Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia.
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Top and Bottom: Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia.
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Top and Bottom: Mike and Stefani (1958). Courtesy Film Australia.
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despite its image of rapid and vast change at social, political and economic levels, may have been more a result of Roosevelt’s persona facilitating change in American expectations rather than any tangible set of reforms. Cooney sees this idea encapsulated in perhaps Roosevelt’s most famous words. In his inaugural address the president declared that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,’ a claim that was neither new nor entirely true. Reflecting a widespread appreciation that the depression was not just an economic but a psychological condition, Roosevelt’s assertion announced, more then anything else, that he was not afraid, that he was ready to act, and that he expected popular support. Biblical imagery and patriotic references rooted the address in familiar cultural traditions, but firm language proclaimed that the nation was about to take a new course. (Cooney 1995: 39) In Australia, the post-war public was expecting responses at a governmental level because, although it had been almost entirely focussed on the war effort, particularly in the later years when the Japanese armed forces posed a threat to Australia itself, at the same time the nation had been experiencing some of its greatest internal changes since white invasion. As Bolton points out, the fall of Singapore in February 1942 and the Japanese attacks on Broome and Darwin seemed to threaten Australia itself. Just as importantly, the war in Australia’s near North was responded to by the appointment of the American general, Douglas Macarthur, as supreme commander of the allied forces in the Pacific with headquarters in Melbourne (and later Brisbane) thrusting an image of US influence into the faces of Australians (Bolton 1996: 7–10). These events heralded major shifts in Australia’s thinking about itself. The country found itself positioned ‘outside’ the Commonwealth in a volatile Asia, and under the increasing influence of the United States. The anxieties and uncertainties that Australians had felt through the depression and the war years remained as strong forces in the post-war years. The paradox of the post-war period was that in an era which saw economic stability and growing affluence and personal comfort in Australia there was also growing uncertainty and fear.… Nearly two decades of deprivation and uncertainty had left a legacy of insecurity and desire for security, both domestic, personal and international. (Alomes et al. 1984: 2) Alongside the residue of these images of Asia, of America, and of the kind of nationalism that was discussed in relation to the Australian left in the previous chapter, came the influx of large numbers of non-British immigrants to fulfil the ‘reconstruction’ model envisaged by the Labor government. While this initiative may initially have been seen as a contribution to nation-building, it evolved into a further source of parochialism and continued the long history of migration and xenophobia that still plays a role in Australia today. Opposition to ‘alien’ immigration had a long history. It had been intense during the 1930s when there were fears of those among non-Caucasians, the Mediterranean types, and the prospect of large numbers of refugees offered raw material for traditional
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populist anti-Semitism. The war experience exacerbated the fear of foreigners. (Alomes et al. 1984: 13) In the United States of the 1930s it was the figure of Roosevelt that anchored the public’s imagination. In post-war Australia the same anchor was provided by the more general theme of nation-building, with relatively little emphasis on Curtin’s persona. It seems that initially the defeat of the Axis forces had brought a sense of security that existed alongside anxieties about foreign influence which maintained tension in Australian post-war culture. Geoffrey Bolton argues that there was a short lived hope in the 1940s that Australia, no longer dependent on Britain, could revert to the nationalist ideals of the federation period and mature into the kind of society which at least to some extent could set a model of equity for the rest of the world. (Bolton 1996: 53) This model was, in the government’s eyes, to provide some of the security that had been missing from Australian society for so long. Much of the social policy underlying the Australian government’s schemes for post-war reconstruction – improved housing and welfare, better education, the basic goal of full employment – was designed to provide a stable and encouraging setting where male breadwinners and female home-makers could feel secure in raising a new generation of young Australians. (Bolton 1996: 54) As was the case for the United States in the 1930s, what was most significant about the response of the Australian government was that it was to alter ‘the very idea of what “government” implied, the images conjured up by the term, and the effects on people’s lives that its use assumed’ (Cooney 1995: 33). Both the Roosevelt and the Curtin/Chifley Governments had at the heart of their platforms the promise of social reform, and both responded by addressing the relationship between government and the financial system. These changes are where the similarities are the strongest and where the push for social reform began. The Roosevelt Administration provided a domestic economic model for the Labor years of post-war Australia. Out of the New Deal grew a revised balance of public and private that would soon earn the label ‘a mixed economy’. Now the stock market would be regulated by federal laws and by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which sought to establish some minimum level of financial and ethical probity. Fiscal and monetary policy would come to the fore as more conscious tools of economic adjustment. Labor-management relations would develop within a legal framework that established minimum wages and maximum hours for many workers and defined guidelines for union bargaining under the oversight of the National Labor Relations Board. And agriculture would be supported through an extensive array of federal subsidies and loans. (Cooney 1995: 34)
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In Australia, the centralization of the Commonwealth bank was a major step in ‘the maintenance of a stable currency, full employment and national prosperity’ (Bolton 1996: 44). The Chifley Government believed that the management of the economy held the key to Australia’s security. The government’s assessment of the forces that had brought about the depression led to the facilitation of social reform. For this discussion, one of the closest parallels between the United States in the 1930s and post-war Australia hinges on the reforms brought about by the Department of Post-war Reconstruction. These included the Department’s aim of full employment which, along with a focus on immigration, Bolton asserts, ‘could result from a banking policy on Keynesian principles: expansion of private enterprise could be encouraged together with increased activity by the government in funding social services and projects of national development.’ (Bolton 1996: 30) Part of this ‘national development’ was, as Shirley and Adams recall, to include support for the arts and higher education including setting up a Commonwealth Cultural Council and a National Film Board in 1945 (Shirley and Adams 1989: 175). Pare Lorentz’s The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1937) grew directly out of the New Deal, in particular the work of the Resettlement Administration, the task of which was, according to Erik Barnouw, ‘to open the eyes of the nation to the unchronicled devastation of rural poverty’ (Barnouw 1983: 113). The Plow that Broke the Plains was explicit in this regard, while The River, Barnouw writes, ‘reached into numerous issues of concern to the New Deal: flood control, hydroelectric power, soil conservation, rural electrification’ (Barnouw 1983: 118). The River takes up the problems of overfarming that were addressed in The Plow that Broke the Plains. In The River, soil erosion, deforestation and logging led to flooding, further soil erosion and poverty. The major difference between the films is that The River provides a solution to these problems; the Tennessee Valley Authority, a government department that introduces a hydro-electric scheme to control flooding, builds houses and creates prosperity. The River also invokes a linear structure tracing the tributaries that form the Mississippi River in a north to south trajectory. Lorentz’s films formally and thematically were to have a major influence on film-makers around the world. They are also examples of government-sponsored documentaries that explicitly deal with the relationship between a community and the land. These New Deal films represent a form of documentary that examined relationships between the land and social systems much in the same way that Grierson understood the role of the documentary film in the affirmation of the State such as that depicted in Night Mail (1936). Night Mail was made in 1936, by the General Post Office Film Unit, then headed by Grierson. It was produced, directed and scripted by Harry Watt and Basil Wright. Night Mail concerns a train, The Postal Special, that runs from London to Glasgow transporting mail. The film focuses on the structure of what Richard Barsam in Nonfiction Film calls ‘this ordinary process’ (Barsam 1974: 51), representing a system of mail delivery employing, at times, rhythmic rhyming poetry,
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backed by a military style drum beat which propels the linear trajectory of the train across the landscape in panning shots of the countryside with the voice-over,
This is the Night Mail crossing the border Bringing the cheque and the postal order Letters for the rich, letters for the poor The shop at the corner and the girl next door
Although we understand that the journey represented in the film is part of a continuous process, there is an emphasis on linear narrative movement (a single successful journey is shown) and homogeneity in its celebration of this process and the mail workers. The film clearly illustrates Grierson’s notion of ‘the creative treatment of actuality’, providing another significant model for both the landscape documentary and state-sponsored documentary on an international scale. Lorentz’s films can be also be understood in relation to the Grierson model when they are considered in the light of the other documentary initiatives that arose during the Hoover Administration and continued in Roosevelt’s Administration. William Stott proposes an understanding of the term ‘documentary’ in a very broad sense. […] such narrower concerns as the strategy of documentary photographs, the rationale behind ‘human interest’ reporting, the ballets of Martha Graham’s ‘American theme’ period, Edward Murrow’s wartime broadcasts, Franklin Roosevelt’s use of allusion, Walker Evans’ aesthetics, the world view in a ‘true confession’ story, and the techniques of documentary reportage (which is currently called ‘new’ or ‘personal’ journalism). (Stott 1973: x) For Stott, the use of documentary is concomitant with the era. In a later passage, he tells a story about how Theodore Dreiser during the 1930s and early 1940s was pressured to come up with another novel but felt that he must write about economics because ‘the actual world, not any he could dream up, chiefly engaged Dreiser’s imagination’. Stott adds, ‘And he was typical’ (Stott 1973: 119). According to Stott the 1930s was ‘a time of social cataclysm’, when fiction ‘felt too frivolous’. Stott cites Dos Passos’ U.S.A. and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath as examples of fiction which were ‘closely related to documentary’ (Stott 1973: 122). The Grapes of Wrath, Stott asserts, is a book that belongs to a radical tendency that ‘advocated’ that the existing ‘socioeconomic system … be fundamentally changed’ (Stott 1973: 122). On the other hand, the New Deal tendency to which The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River belong called for ‘the reform, and thus the preservation, of the system’ (Stott 1973: 122); and in this sense, Lorentz’s films have much in common with Heyer’s films as well as the governmental milieu out of which they arose. It is possible to see a similar emphasis on the relationship between people and the land in Robert Flaherty’s essay-film The Land (1942), made for the United States Agricultural Adjustment
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Agency of the Department of Agriculture. The American’s films also correspond in some ways with Heyer’s and Flaherty was someone for whom Heyer had much admiration. Flaherty’s work intersected with the British documentary movement with Industrial Britain (1933) as well as the tail end of the New Deal lineage with The Land. Although not explicitly a landscape documentary, Industrial Britain, made by Flaherty for Grierson at the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit is an example of a state sponsored documentary that emphasized people and work. Ian Aitken describes the film as ‘a romantic celebration of industrial craftsmanship’ (Aitken 1990: 121) in its imaging, often in static close-up, of people in the face of industrial processes ‘continuing’ as Andrew Higson writes, ‘the age old traditions of craftsmanship’ (Higson 1986: 77). As Higson describes it, Industrial Britain employs a ‘poetic ambiguity’ – containing the ‘metaphoric and associative possibilities of the montage juxtapositions’ (Higson 1986: 79) in a somewhat haphazard organization of numerous images of workers and their workplaces. It is possible to understand the film as a precursor to The Land. It was Grierson, according to Calder-Marshall, who, in 1939, in New York on his way to Australia, ‘met with Mrs. Flaherty who asked him how she could induce Bob to come back [to the United States]’ and it was he who then ‘suggested to Lorentz that Flaherty was a man he should use’ (Calder-Marshall 1963: 189). At this time Flaherty had been living in London, hanging out with the British documentary movement crowd, and was keen to leave Europe because of the threat of war. Of course Flaherty’s name by this time was legendary in documentary circles. The same kind of mythologizing that we have seen surround Grierson attended Flaherty. An artist of a strong and uniquely personal vision, Robert Flaherty made films that constitute their own genre. He was a born teller of tales, and like the ancient bards, he repeated essentially one story, embroidering it in each new telling with a different design. His was a simple, sublime design, achieved by the natural skills of a steadfast, independent artist who was caught early in the tangles of his own imagination. (Barsam 1988: 11) Elements of this singular vision can be seen reflected in Heyer’s films. The relationship between people and their environment was Flaherty’s speciality and had been the subject of his earliest film, Nanook of the North (1922), and his later works Moana (1926), and Man of Aran (1934). Flaherty, according to Barsam, relied on the ‘found story’ taking for ‘granted that a narrative story would emerge from his approach’ including ‘simple stories in the lives of people who lived close to nature’ (10). Flaherty, as described by Grierson, illustrates better than anyone the first principles of documentary. (1) It must master its material on the spot, and come in intimacy to ordering it. Flaherty digs himself in for a year, or two maybe. He lives with his people till the story is told ‘out of himself.’ (2) It must follow him in his distinction between description and drama. I think we shall find
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that there are other forms of drama, or more accurately, other forms of film than the one he chooses; but it is more important to make the primary distinction between a method which describes only the surface value of a subject, and the method which more explosively reveals the reality of it. You photograph the natural life, but you also, by your juxtaposition of detail, create an interpretation of it. (Grierson 1966: 148) In his best-known films, Nanook of the North, Moana and Louisiana Story (1948), Flaherty essentially reworked the theme of a community’s relationship with the land in different locations, in each case focussing on individuals. Flaherty’s oeuvre relies on a romantic rendering of cultures and their dependence on their surroundings for survival. While Nanook, Moana and Man of Aran reinvented past cultures to construct exotic documents of humanity, The Land was a representation of agricultural problems and their effect on people in contemporary 1940s America. While Nanook of the North, Moana, Man of Aran and Louisiana Story employed individual protagonists around which to spin a web of episodic accounts of the struggle to survive, often in harsh environments, The Land is all encompassing, ranging across many states and agricultural issues. Its concern is not for the land so much as for the people who depend on it. The Land employs static portraits of the people who work the land, including the opening images of a particular farm in which are imaged a farmer, his wife and child, recalling the photography of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans (as well as the portraitlike images in Industrial Britain) and establishing a ‘farming type’ similar to one that these Farm Security Administration photographers celebrated. For Brian Winston, ‘The Land demonstrates the centrality of “treatment” by showing how far from any concept of a fully formed film a series of almost random shots and mini-sequences, even if they are on a consistent theme, is’ (Winston 1995: 111). Yet the formal qualities of The Land can also be understood as part of the lineage of documentary that Stott traces, in particular the idea of ‘documentary reportage’ or ‘personal’ journalism which he sees as ‘concomitant with an era’. But Winston wants to understand The Land in relation to ‘narrative structure’ (Winston 1995: 109) and it is this approach that is most useful for a discussion of the relation of this film to Heyer’s work. The script is reduced to itinerary. ‘We found this in Tennessee’; ‘It is here in the old Cotton South’; ‘We came upon an old Negro’; ‘a thousand miles west’; ‘We came to a town that cotton farmers founded not so long ago. Go forth, Texas’; ‘We came to this family moving out’. On and on the movie trudges, each fragment fading to black, sometimes heralding a change in location, sometimes only to fade up in the same place. Flaherty, on the soundtrack, paraphrases what this chance succession of rural strangers told him – from corn to cotton, cotton to corn, to erosion, to squalor to plenty, until at last we are back with the Pennsylvania farmers and, finally, a great row of midwestern combine harvesters advancing across the prairie. ‘The great fact is the land, the land itself, and the people, and the spirit of the people’. The end. (Winston 1995: 111)
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Although Flaherty never employed a script in any of his films, Winston’s insistence on reading The Land in terms of script, diegesis and narrative sets that film against documentaries such as Lorentz’s that employ stricter filmic conventions. The Land employs an indirect sense of spatial linearity compared to the kind of journey structure that Night Mail and The River employ. In a reflection of Turksib, Spanish Earth and The River, Flaherty’s film employs a sequence beginning with rain clouds which then leads to an image of rainwater forming rivulets that increase in size as a sign of soil erosion. For the left, as evidenced by Coldicutt’s review examined in Chapter 1, Turksib was one of the high points of Soviet cinema. One of the earliest examples of the landscape genre, Turksib has had an international influence on the landscape documentary, in particular its representation of arid land subject to the elements such as drought, flood and wind. It also contains low angle long shots of figures on the horizon, ‘epic’ shots often emulated as in Holmes’s ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’. One of the most influential sequences in the film is the thawing of snow-capped mountains, providing water for parched farmlands. Erik Barnouw points out that ‘Turin’s tracing of small mountain rivulets into a raging, swollen river has been widely imitated’ (Barnouw 1983: 67). In Turksib, the sequence is positive, reflecting the collective nature of Soviet initiatives such as the irrigation of the land. In The Land (as in earlier films by Lorentz), the sequence is negative, a result of bad land management. As the above quote from Winston indicates, The Land is concerned with agriculture because of its relationship with people. It may be said, again as Winston indicates, that the journey that holds the film together is that taken by the film crew, in particular the ‘innocent eye’ as Arthur Calder-Marshall’s puts it, of Flaherty. At the same time, this ‘innocent eye’ belongs to all Americans who are taken on this journey by the film as the commentary, spoken by Flaherty, indicates.2
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It is here, in the old Cotton South, Where our great Southern culture grew up, Grew up on this land Which was once so rich and beautiful, Once so marvellous for its vigour; But a culture that grew up on two great soil-wasting crops – Tobacco, Cotton: And the land, year after year, And Generation after Generation, Was beaten. It is here that we see what erosion, What the loss of the soil can do! When soil fails, life fails.
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Later this narration is personalized, in the sense that the film represents a farmer’s meeting in Pennsylvania where Flaherty’s narration takes up the words of the initial farmer who appears throughout the film – in the fields with his wife, but also at the meeting where he is speaking and gesticulating – the film obliquely associating Flaherty’s words with one voice representing many.
Down in the Carolinas, Up in Oregon, In New Mexico, Indiana, Maine, In the high North-West, The Texas plains – The face of the land made over Made strong again. Made strong for ever. We are saving the soil. With our fabulous machines We can make every last acre of this country strong again. With the machines we can produce food enough To feed the world.
As this narration indicates, The Land roams across vast geographical spaces which ultimately form the web of images, comments and traces of stories that form the film. Flaherty’s personal tone is the organizing principle around which the glimpses and comments adhere. Siegfried Kracauer saw Flaherty’s role in the structure as the film’s strength. All these deficiencies are not weighty enough to injure the true merits of The Land: its deep honesty and the beauty of its pictures. Indeed the whole is impregnated with a sincerity that cannot but impress. Flaherty may be naïve: in his naïveté, however, he really says what he feels and avoids making hasty conclusions. And if he does not always come to grips with the problems he wants to expose, he proceeds, nevertheless, with an instinct so infallible as not to endanger future solutions. It is important that his own voice sounds throughout the film; this voice has the power of convincing and efficaciously bolsters the content of his pictures. The secret of these pictures is to include time. They resemble fragments of a lost epic song that celebrated the immense life of the land; nothing is omitted, and each episode is full of significance. (Qtd in Griffith 1972: 142) Another significant documentary figure of this time was Joris Ivens who, like Flaherty, contributed to this lineage of government-sponsored documentary film that emerged from the New Deal.
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Ivens had been a major progenitor of documentaries concerned with the relationship between nature and humans. His 1929 film Rain pushed the director and in particular the nature documentary into the limelight. Another of Ivens’ films that had a significant impact upon the documentary world was The Spanish Earth (1937), an overtly political film about the loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. In it Ivens draws a direct correlation between the survival of democratic Spain, then under threat from fascist rebels, and the earth as a source of identity for the Spanish people. The Spanish Earth also remakes Turksib’s gradual forming of rivulets into irrigation canals as a sign of solidarity. Power and the Land (1940) also articulates a relationship between a community and the land that they work; and, as will be obvious later in this chapter, this is the Ivens film which seems most pertinent to this discussion. In Power and the Land the family farm is depicted as directly representing the land in the form of a place where the food for the nation is grown – a metaphor which the film extends to the nation and to its people growing out of the land. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA), a branch of the Department of Agriculture, chose a single family, the Parkinsons, as the subject for this film. It was important that the representative family be what Robert Snyder describes as a ‘typical, not a modern, farm, and a typical, not a modern, family’ (Snyder 1968: 123). The outline script was written by Lorentz ‘based on an old silent film From Dawn to Dusk, [which] described two days, one without electricity, one with’ (123). The film is a simple rendering, what Richard Dyer MacCann calls ‘a leading example of what a governmental documentary might be’ of the benefits electricity can bring to the lives and work of farming people (MacCann 1973: 103). The opening scenes are documentary at its best. Farmer Parkinson, up before sunrise, carries his lantern out to the barn to do his chores. Through the day, he milks, pumps water, works on tools, pitches hay, fills lamps. His wife cooks, washes and irons. ‘Yes there are machines to do washing, but they run by electricity.’ These people know that in the cities a man need only turn on a faucet to get water. They know that ‘one man alone can’t change’ the way they live. The Parkinsons and their neighbours talk it over ‘in the slow cautious way of country people,’ and decide to take advantage of the government agency which can help them get power. From there on, the film is slightly magical, as the kilowatt hours – which ‘don’t get tired’ – take over, the electric lines go up, and refrigerator, iron, washing machine, stove and radio appear. (MacCann 1973: 103) MacCann’s simplification of the film’s narrative doesn’t account for the way that the film positions the character of Bip who is, as William Alexander points out, closely allied with the produce of the farm. In a scene where Bill is harvesting corn the narrator says ‘a kid is about the best crop there is’ while Bip is imaged as a free spirit skipping through the fields holding a cornflower stalk in his hand. The character of Bip is one way in which the film directly associates the REA initiative with notions of a new approach to land care. More particularly, this characterization images how the electrification of farming will benefit future generations directly associating the manner in which people change and are, in turn, changed by the land. This symbiosis between people and the land is apparent in Heyer’s films.
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A film that can be understood as a combination of The River, The Land and Power and the Land is Alexander Hammid’s The Valley of the Tennessee (1944) made for the Office of War Information alongside films such as Josef von Sternberg’s The Town (1941). As I will discuss later in this chapter, Hammid’s film emphasizes governmental initiative in a manner that is mirrored in Heyer’s films. The Valley of the Tennessee depicts the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a governmental institution with the capacity to unite individual farmers and dam construction workers in a common goal. Terry Cooney writes that ‘under the TVA, the generation of electricity became for a time an integrated part of a broad planning scheme in which social and technological issues were understood as interdependent’ (Cooney 1995: 28). Like The River, the government provides an understanding of the larger issues involved in stemming the flooding of the Tennessee River, an initiative which is supposed to make farms more profitable and provide hydro-electric power for a large area. Like The River, and The Land, The Valley of the Tennessee blames overfarming for soil degradation and erosion and represents the TVA as the answer to the region’s problems. Hammid’s film, like those discussed above, employs a sequence of rainclouds forming, spots of rain becoming small streams, then rivers culminating in massive floods. The Valley of the Tennessee, like The River, images towns swamped by floodwaters to emphasize the interdependence of the agricultural sector and non-rural regions. Like Power and the Land, Hammid’s film focuses on one family, or more precisely one farmer, Henry Clark, who is schooled by the TVA in the technology that will save his degraded farm at the same time as it will provide electricity, with the help of the Rural Electrification Administration, to the farms as well as the cities. Hammid’s film is more localized than The River attending to the region which is exemplified at the end of Lorentz’s film in terms of the community which the valley must support. It is in this ‘locality’, and in terms of this community, that the film operates as a metaphor for the United States. Much of the rhetoric in this 1944 film is remade from the Farm Security Administration initiatives of the 1930s. The Valley of the Tennessee opens with an image of a sea-plane taking off from a large city. From this vantage point we see images of industry, suburbia, then mountainous forests and the more specific image of an idyllic river valley. These images are accompanied by this voice-over: More than 300 hundred years ago the first pioneers crossed the oceans to a new world. A promise called them. The promise of a land where a man could build his own house, farm his own acres, raise his children in freedom. They carved from the wilderness an empire of agriculture and industry. They set for themselves new and higher standards of living. And yet in one of the great river valleys of America something went wrong. [Image of a school house and the faces of farmer’s children] In the Tennessee Valley three centuries later the descendants of the pioneers were a neglected people living in a ruined land. For these children the hope and the promise were dead.
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This narration not only draws on the country’s foundation myth, but also introduces the twin topics of industry and agriculture, as well as emphasizing the people who live in the valley. Although the film blames the overfarming of the land on ‘ignorance’ and ‘innocence’ as well as ‘greed and neglect’, this is tempered by the narrator stating that the floods that the film visualizes as resulting from erosion were caused by ‘men working alone and unaided against the forces of nature’. Like The Land, the earlier parts of the film also contain several static ‘portraits’ that recall the work of the FSA photographers. These personal, localized images are brought together with the larger governmental concerns of hydro-electric power and the damming of the river for irrigation. In one sequence of Hammid’s film, the damming of the Tennessee River is celebrated through images of towering dam walls and an accompanying narration stating that ‘these are the symbols of the nation’s constructive energies’, listing the names of the dams such as Cherokee, Wilson and Pickwick Landing and concluding the sequence with the words: ‘Built for and owned by the people of the United States’. The Valley of the Tennessee reconciles industry and agriculture, country and city through the association of the foundation myth with the Tennessee valley where, MacCann claims, ‘the human apathy in the face of rain-gutted lands could be met and changed by the “new pioneers” – the experts – and by “reason, science and education”’ (MacCann 1973: 144). John Heyer’s first experiences in film were as a factotum for the Melbourne production company Efftee productions, working on Clara Gibbings and The Streets of London in 1934. Heyer met the young Damien Parer on the Efftee set of Heritage (1935) in Melbourne, where Parer was taking stills for the film’s Producer/Director, Charles Chauvel. As we saw in the Introduction, Parer was later to become Australia’s best known documentary film-maker. This friendship proved invaluable for both men. Two like minds swapped imported books and magazines. Like Ken Coldicutt and Cecil Holmes, Heyer maintained his connection to the international left documentary community through the publications he read with Parer. In an interview with Andrew Pike and Ray Edmondson, Heyer commented on his awareness of the international documentary movement during the 1930s. Damien and I were reading Close Up, Cinema Quarterly, Experimental Cinema, we were corresponding with the GIK [State Film School] in Moscow, with Grierson’s crowd. When I say corresponding we would make efforts to make contact. I didn’t see any great flow of letters there. In fact one of my great disappointments – I was very keen to get into GIK but I never did get a decent answer back. Experimental Cinema is one of the publications that Heyer has consistently referred to as having an impact on him as a young film-maker. In another interview with Graham Shirley, Heyer mentions Experimental Cinema as a publication to which he subscribed. This American publication was not unlike its English counterpart Close Up in its celebration of the Soviet cinema and, like Close Up, had an international perspective on cinema. In the inaugural issue of the publication an ‘Announcement’ states that: Experimental Cinema will be a forum where the work of directors and creators such as S. Eisenstein, W. Pudovkin, Dovzhenko, C. Dreyer, Kozinstoff, Trauberg, E. Pommer, J.
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Feyder, B. Rahn, A. Cavalcanti, Mann Ray, M. Allegret, E. Desalaw, Pabst, J. Epstein, Rene Clair, A. Room, Lubitsch, Griffith, Stroheim, Vidor, Seastrom, Chaplin, Flaherty, von Sternberg and other will be discussed. There will also be criticism, analysis, and scenarios by internationally known men such as A. Bashky, L. Moussinac, R. Aron, H. Potamkin, Seymour Sten, J. Lenauer, L. Bunuel, R. Desnois, R. Aldrich, Syd S. Salt, and others. The significance of Heyer’s mentioning this journal is that the comment indicates an American left influence on the formation of his ideas. The journal’s co-editor Lewis Jacobs was, as we have seen, aware of the activities of the Realist Film Unit in Melbourne. Heyer was also directly influenced by the Friends of the Soviet Union of which Ken Coldicutt was a member. In War Cameraman Neil McDonald points out that in 1934, at the time they were at work on Heritage ‘Damien and John did not just read literature, they saw films such as Eisenstein’s Ten Days That Shook the World (also known as October), Battleship Potemkin and Pudovkin’s Mother at screenings organised by Friends of the Soviet Union’ (McDonald 1994: 14). With the building of National Studios at Pagewood, Sydney in 1935, the focus for Australian film-making had shifted from Melbourne to Sydney. The demise of Eftee in Melbourne in 1934 and the prospect of work on another feature to be made in Pagewood saw Heyer drawn north. After Chauvel’s film Heritage wrapped, Ken Hall’s Thoroughbred (1936), Zane Grey’s White Death (1936), A.R. Harwood’s Show Business (1938) and Chauvel’s Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940) had Heyer moving between location work and the National Studios and Hall’s Cinesound studios, also in Sydney, in various roles as assistant sound engineer, assistant editor and assistant cameraman. During this period Heyer also made advertising films for General Electric and New Pastures (1940) for the Milk Board. In Sydney on 26 March 1940, Heyer introduced himself to John Grierson with the hope of securing some film work. They discussed the documentary movement. Grierson noted on the ‘thank-you’ letter he received from the young Australian that Heyer was a ‘Young T. [young turk or tyro] Good. Sounds as if he understands principles of argument for doco’ (Heyer 1940). Ultimately this impression proved valuable to Heyer, for it led to a recommendation from Grierson to Harry Watt, who arrived in Australia four years later with an international reputation in documentary production. Shirley and Adams sketch in some of the background to Harry Watt’s visit to Australia and its eventual outcome: The original stimulus for The Overlanders came from the Government’s complaint to the British Ministry of Information that the Australian war effort was not being sufficiently publicised in British propaganda. The grievance – revealing Australia’s continued dependence on Britain and the lack of its own propaganda – led to the BMI discussing the matter with Michael Balcon. As Harry Watt had already expressed interest in Australia, he was assigned to travel, in Balcon’s words, ‘not with a film to make but to find a theme for a film which would in some way deal with the problem’. (Shirley and Adams 1989: 168–69)
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Ealing’s production of The Overlanders (1946) provided Heyer with the opportunity to be involved in a significant international production. Watt employed Heyer to collaborate on the shooting script and as second unit director. He was given the arduous task of following an actual cattle drive across outback Australia in order to provide stock footage to be interspersed with footage of Chips Rafferty, John Nugent, Jean Blue and Daphne Campbell in dramatic and action sequences. This meant that Heyer was responsible for the majority of the ‘documentary’ shots, while Watt concentrated on the ‘docu-drama’ sequences. Heyer recalled this period in an interview with Martha Ansara: I’d come up with a mob of cattle and get one of the drovers to put on Daphne’s wig with the blonde plaits and her hat and Chips with a hat etc., get the longest, thinnest looking character I could find and have him galloping among the mob. Did the same with the aerial stuff, used doubles for that too. We had an Auro Anson from the air force. I had a camera mounted up in the front, in the old bomb bay. We’d set up doubles on the ground and then go up and do a zoom along the cattle or whatever. As Tom O’Regan points out the significance of The Overlanders for people like Heyer, the scope of the National Film Board and feature production generally was that the emphasis that Watt placed on location was demonstrated as a viable alternative to what the English film-maker had seen as ‘studio facilities and equipment [that] were so poor that indoor films were useless to attempt in Australia … the basic mistake of Australian filmmakers’ (O’Regan 1987: 8). The Overlanders was projected as an alternative production model to those represented by Ken Hall and Charles Chauvel (then seeking to reassert themselves in the commercial industry after the war) and its local and international success made it a plausible one. This higher budgeted, quality, ‘location film’ was presented as superior to a filmmaking which was characterised as studio based, confined to locations near Sydney, and owing much to American melodrama. (O’Regan 1987: 8) Watt’s understanding of the ‘problems’ of the Australian film industry is a negative variation of Grierson’s ‘First principles of documentary’, yet Watt’s specific pre-production methodology and use of character types may have actually had a larger influence on Heyer than anything Grierson had said or done. Watt, according to Shirley and Adams, after ‘five months and 25 000 miles of travel in Australia “had five ideas and scrapped the lot”’ eventually ‘finding his subject during a conversation with the Commonwealth Food Controller – the overland drive in 1942 of 100 000 head of cattle from the Northern Territory to the Queensland coast when a Japanese invasion seemed imminent’ (Shirley and Adams 1989: 169). In ‘‘Britain’s outstanding contribution to the film: The documentary-realist tradition’, Andrew Higson provides some indication of the film milieu from which Watt emerged, providing Heyer with models for the use of narrative and the employment of character types. Higson traces what he understands to be the connection between the British documentary movement and the
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post-war British Free Cinema movement in terms of a convergence of the ‘story documentary tendency’ and the narrative fiction film. The Second World War is also a significant factor. The movement into the war years of the 40s is a movement into an ideological climate which requires the articulation of the public sphere as the sphere of a national interest immediately recognisable as transcending sectional interests; but there is also the requirement that the individual citizen should be in no doubt as to the importance of the assigned role he or she must play. The ‘national interest’ must be able to accommodate the private and the domestic; it must be able to accommodate the emotional capacity of the individual, if necessary by demonstrating the irresponsibility of holding private, and particularly romantic, interests above the national interest. (Higson 1986: 84) For Higson, Watt’s films can be understood in terms of narrative ‘to indicate that there is temporal movement from the definition of a goal to be achieved (the return home of the fishermen in North Sea, the bombing of the target and the safety of those involved in Target for Tonight), through various blockages to that goal, to the successful fulfilment of the goal and textual closure’ (Higson 1986: 85). Watt also employs what Higson calls ‘stereotyping, or typage’ which Higson traces through Soviet film and ‘the progressive inscription of character with the marks of unique individuality’ (Higson 1986: 85). It is possible to understand the character of Dan McAlpine in The Overlanders in terms of Higson’s assertions. In this case the actor Chips Rafferty had become familiar to Australian audiences through Charles Chauvel’s earlier war films Forty Thousand Horseman (1940) and Rats of Tobruk (1944). In The Overlanders Rafferty represents a masculine rural type without the depth of characterization often associated with narrative fiction film. These aspects of narrative and characterization, Higson asserts, are drawn from the 1930s Grierson-influenced documentaries based on ‘an emphasis on the narrativisation not of individual desire but of public (social) process’ (Higson 1986: 85). In many of the story documentaries of the 30s and early 40s, the power of the state is visible only as the power to set in motion a chain of communication which has a double function: it prepares for the successful completion of an act in the national interest … and, at the same time, it protects the private, sectional interests of a relatively individuated but tight-knit community. (Higson 1986: 85–86) It is possible to read The Overlanders as a rendering of Grierson’s template for documentary in Australia including the aesthetic and social requirements of documentary that he propounded. But this feature production also bears the hallmarks of the films that were behind the documentary work performed in the New Deal. It seems that prevailing ideology brought about an interest in representing the country in a way that would reinforce ideas of nationhood, unity, and the problems that currently needed to be represented to and addressed by the nation. Like the New Deal emphasis on the role of government in social engineering, The Overlanders shows that the government is supporting local initiatives by ordinary people, particularly extraordinary ones such as those undertaken by Dan McAlpine (Chips Rafferty) and his friends.
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While the cattle drive from Wyndham to Brisbane is understood to be a commercial venture, in that there is much to-do about ‘the contract’ and the possibilities of a ‘bonus’ at the conclusion to the drive, there is also a strong sub-text involving the Labor government and the war effort. Early on in the drive, the party comes across a road and Rafferty’s narration provides an official introduction. ‘So it was quite a thrill for us to come on the brand new north-south road, built across Australia to supply the fighting in the islands’. Mrs Parsons (Jean Blue) remarks, ‘I never thought I’d see a bitumen road in the territory’, to which McAlpine adds some social commentary: ‘They tell me it’s gonna be like this all the way to Darwin. Takes a war eh?’ This sequence, followed by a ‘parade’ of service people heading towards Darwin, invoking terms such as Tobruk and Kokoda, provides contemporary information as well as drawing the war effort into the narrative. Although by the time the film was released the war had ended, the benefits that the country was to enjoy from government departmental initiatives is one of the primary messages carried by the film. Geoffrey Bolton cites the highway depicted in the film as a particularly ‘New Deal’ achievement of the Allied Works Council which, under E.G. Theodore, […] recruited a Civil Construction Corps which by mid-1943 numbered over 50 000. Its achievements included the 1500 kilometre bitumen topped Stuart Highway between Darwin and Alice Springs, a project long deferred in peacetime and now completed in twelve months. (Bolton 1996: 13) This road had entered the popular imagination as a pioneering effort, much like the drive that the film documents. Later in the film, as the party approaches the Queensland border, the sub-text of a beneficent government overseeing initiatives is emphasized when an airplane is heard and Corky (John Fernside) remarks, ‘Maybe it’s Mr Curtin come to congratulate us’. When the journey is completed, an unspecified government Minister (Marshall Crosby) is imaged making a speech to a newsreel camera. Terry Cooney locates Franklin Roosevelt in a similar indirect way in John Ford’s film of The Grapes of Wrath (1940). In the migrant camp run by the federal government where the Joad family believes it has finally found rest from its trials, the figure who runs the camp and eventually intervenes when state interests attempt to intimidate the campers is apparently one resembling Franklin Roosevelt (Cooney 1995: 38). Both The Overlanders and The Grapes of Wrath image government initiatives by personifying the ‘new course’ that the nations were taking. In The Overlanders it is possible to see a coalescence of the New Deal culture and Grierson’s ideas that film should ‘bring the disparate elements of the war effort together and create in the Australian mind an integrated view of the national war purpose and war effort’ as well as ‘project to other countries a view of Australia as a powerful and progressive people, fulfilling its responsibilities to a large new territory’ (Grierson 1985: 72). The film does this by employing the landscape, a subject that conforms to both Grierson’s ideas about projecting a particular
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representation of Australia to the Commonwealth and the social engineering of the Roosevelt government. This post-war reconstructionism drew upon a long standing pioneering/developmental ethos. In it Australia appeared as a zone of possibilities: the Australian continent existed as a dramatic, imaginative space where emptiness could be converted to fullness, where undreamed of potential could be realised, and where distance was symbolically banished. In the process the outback became a metaphor of Australian society and character. It was a mythic setting, revitalising the Australian nation and its rural and secondary industries. (O’Regan 1987: 9) In Watt’s film, the ‘dramatic space’ is rendered through a journey motif which focuses on the ordeals of McAlpine’s party with few references to the communities that they encounter. Yet the film employs ‘climactic’ incidents which punctuate the drive from Wyndham to Brisbane and back again. Incidents such as the capturing of the wild brumbies, the discovery of contaminated water, and the stampede and injuring of Sinbad (Peter Pagan) mark out an episodic form of journey. The Overlanders concludes with McAlpine and the others setting out on another drive. The importance of processes like the cattle drive in the reconstruction of post-war Australia is emphasized by Mary and Sinbad’s tearful farewell at Brisbane. The film slowly builds their relationship but, perhaps unexpectedly, it is implied that Mary will return to droving, as she tells Sinbad that ‘Wyndham [the town she is returning to] will always find me, or Anthony’s Lagoon, on the next trip’. In this instance it is possible to see Higson’s idea of ‘demonstrating the irresponsibility of holding private, and particularly romantic, interests above the national interest’. This scene concludes with shots of other drovers watching as McAlpine’s plane passes over them as well as of overhead shots of cattle herds. This sequence includes a repetition of the shot used in the post-title sequence at the beginning of the film where we are told by the narrator, in words prefiguring those of the anonymous Minister’s speech, And so across Australia moved a mass migration unique in history. From small beginnings the mobs of cattle poured south in an almost unending flood. This is the story of one mob and of the people who drove it across a continent. In repeating these images and words the film not only remains true to its propaganda agenda, it also reinforces the circuitous and cumulative nature of this kind of nation-building process, a reflection of which can be seen in The Back of Beyond. This emphasis on social ‘message’ as part of post-war reconstruction tapped into a strong vein of resurgent nationalism in the post-war years. In this way The Overlanders exemplifies most of the principles that were soon to guide the formation of the Australian National Film Board (ANFB). As we have seen the ANFB, like the New Zealand Film Board, has generally been seen to have been modelled on the Grierson-inspired Canadian Film Board. However, the Australian
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Government had been involved in documentary film production prior to the formation of the ANFB. The Commonwealth Cinema and Photographic Branch of the Department of Agriculture had been in existence since 1921, producing ‘films that would promote immigration and generally publicise Australia at home and abroad’ (Shirley and Adams 1989: 129). During the war Australian propaganda purposes were served by the Commonwealth Department of Information (DOI) which, was ‘formed five days after the outbreak of war [and] was to coordinate and censor all media information released in Australia dealing with the war’. The Film Division of the DOI ‘was intended to coordinate government and commercial film activity and to mobilise the film medium for national ends’ (Shirley and Adams 1989: 166). In February 1940, the DOI sent a small film unit initially to the Middle East whose footage was made available to the Australian newsreel companies, Cinesound and Movietone. These newsreels became a familiar component of cinema-going during the war years. However, ANFB foundation member Professor Alan Stout in mid-1946 wanted to differentiate the new organization from its predecessors, stating that the Board is not just a Government propaganda machine.… In their own productions, they seek to give a true and objective picture of Australian problems, to encourage self criticism rather than complacency, to inform rather than to sell a policy. (Stout qtd in Shirley and Adams 1989: 177) The ANFB was part of a system of government sponsorship which is still present in Australia today in a modified form. Moran points out that the ANFB commissioned films ‘for a sponsored program (paid for by various bureaucratic departments and agencies)’ which coexisted with a national program utilizing another fund granted by the government (Moran 1991: 154). The ANFB evolved into what is now Film Australia. Yet the ANFB’s formation was not solely the result of Griersonian global initiatives. By 1945, a build-up of forces coincided with and perhaps determined government policy. As I have already shown, Grierson’s visit was something of a catalyst to the accumulation of forces that were influencing Australian film culture at the time rather than the inspiration for these forces. The formation of the National Film Board was one of the responses to an awareness by people like Stout and Heyer, of films other than the British and Hollywood features available in commercial cinemas. Stout, Heyer and others had been lobbying for a government documentary film-making body unlike the newsreel units or the ‘propaganda’ producers of the Department of Agriculture. In 1940 the New South Wales Documentary Films Committee was set up to agitate for that State’s government departments to be involved in documentary film production (Moran 1991: 175). Heyer was appointed to this committee along with Alan Stout and others. The Committee’s first president was the State education minister, David Henry Drummond, who had urged the use of film in schools during the 1930s and, like others who met Grierson during his tour was convinced of the need to develop a national documentary movement. The Committee’s principal role was to acquire and distribute non-theatrical films throughout the State, and with the aid of a grant from the Department of Education,
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it gradually built up a large 16mm informational film-lending collection. (Shirley and Adams 1989: 175) In an interview with Gordon Glenn and Ian Stocks, Heyer was asked directly about Grierson’s influence. [H]is total effect was really very small. It was men such as Alan Stout, John Metcalfe, and D.W.K. Duncan, men in top social and academic positions and who had the respect of the political people, who really laid the basis – as members of the Government Documentary Film Council. (Glenn and Stocks 1976: 121) Heyer continued his involvement with the burgeoning film society movement in the 1940s in New South Wales and Victoria, which had promoted an increased interest in culturally and formally diverse films, in particular documentaries. Heyer also became involved with Alfred Heinz, Alan Stout, Frank Howard, Neil Edwards and Frank Nicholls in the first Melbourne Film Festival held at Olinda in 1952, a culmination of Melbourne’s film society movement, itself partly indebted to the Realist Film Association, as we have seen. The New South Wales film society movement also gathered momentum in the early 1950s. By 1950 prominent film societies in Sydney included the Sydney Film Society, the University Film Group, the Independent Film Group and the WEA Film Study Group. By 1951 Sydney joined Melbourne in starting a Realist Film Association. The Sydney Film Society had among its members filmmakers from the DOI’s Film Division [including Heyer]. It published its own journal, Film. (Shirley and Adams 1989: 176) Heyer brought to his position as the first Senior Producer at the National Film Board not only a sound knowledge of many facets of feature film production and documentary film but also some background in the film societies’ alternative to commercial film exhibition. That is, he had read about and seen a range of film from around the world. Like Coldicutt and Holmes, Heyer knew film in an international context, albeit more cinematic than political and he brought that knowledge to bear on what was basically, pace Allan Stout, the production of government propaganda films. The formation of the Australian National Film Board brought together two disparate groups of people. On one hand, there were the Department of Information ‘practitioners’ and the bureaucracy who had been involved in the production of newsreels; on the other hand, there were ‘independent’ ‘documentary’ film-makers such as Heyer, Lee Robinson, Catherine Duncan and their ‘establishment’ supporters such as Alan Stout of Sydney University. This split reflected the difference between ‘newsreel’ an information tool, and ‘documentary’ an avant-garde art form. In the interview with Ansara, Heyer speaks of how a certain bifurcation existed from the inception of the ANFB. I was aware of the fact that most people who were cameramen were newsreel cameramen and very good at it. They were not cinema people. By that I mean they’d never [been]
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involved in cinema as a graphic art. They’d been involved in cinema as informational medium. Heyer’s distinguishing himself from the newsreel practitioners refers us back to his self-education in international documentary film through viewing and reading. This knowledge is apparent in the way that films such as The Valley is Ours and The Back of Beyond are clearly related to the host of precursors I have been discussing. The Valley is Ours was Heyer’s final film for the ANFB. It draws more or less explicitly on the world of documentary production and specifically on the work of Lorentz and Flaherty. The title of Heyer’s film contains the notion of cohesion while it says much about the difference between the ANFB’s project and that of American New Deal film making. The Valley is Ours is an exclamation of ownership; prior to any hint of diversity we are given a sense of unity. In some sense the geographical disparity of a list of names has been rendered into a nationalist project before we even hear it. This suggests that the problems raised in the New Deal films have been solved. In Heyer’s film the lead masculine voice-over and a chorus of masculine voices (signalled below in bold) enact a call and response narration, saying: This is the valley and these are its people The crops are rich, the soil is good The valley needs our labour Our work towards the common good Make the valley ours Check the drifting sand dune, stop the forest fire Irrigate the pastures where our father’s cattle starved. The turbine sings, the tractor roars to the plans of men in the valley A hundred towns need building, there’s a thousand farms to clear Send power across the ranges to the industry beyond Axemen from Bogong, Boorabool Drover … men from Burrinjuk Master your power, meet the challenge of the river The valley is ours! The title of Pare Lorentz’s film, The River, is also distinctly nationalistic. By stating that the subject of the film is The River, the film is asserting the importance of a particular river, the Mississippi within the nation’s consciousness. The title makes this river into an icon for all rivers. The River simply is. It can be controlled – through the Tennessee Valley Authority – but possession does not seem to be an issue as it is in Heyer’s film – as it is, perhaps, for Australians in the 1940s, still imagining themselves as settlers, nation-builders. However, The Valley is Ours has several formal similarities with Lorentz’s film. Albert Moran has written that ‘in Pare Lorentz’s The River (1936) Heyer found justification for his litanies of places,
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things and actions that dominate his commentaries’ (Moran 1991: 49). An immediate similarity is apparent in the narration spoken by Nigel Lovell in The Valley is Ours in which the names of the many towns and tributaries which form the Murray River valley are listed. Then to the lowlands, gathering the Ovens, on to Lake Mulwala and Yarrawonga Weir, on to Torumbari, Euston, Echuca, gathering the Loddon, the Goulburn, Campaspi, gathering the Murrumbidgee from Gundagai and Wagga, gathering the Lachlan from Condobolin and Bulligal, gathering the Darling from Bourke and Munindi, fed by the Warrego, Burro and Castlereagh. This accumulation of place names echoes a list used in The River.
Down the Yellowstone, the Milk, the White and Cheyenne The Cannonball, the Mussel Shell, the James and the Sioux Down the Judith, the Grand, the O’Sage and the Platte The Skunk, the Salt, the Black and the Minnesota Down the Rock, the Illinois, and the Kankakee The Alligator, the Mahungagila, Chakola and Musgungan Down the Miami, the Warbash, the Licking and the Green The Cumberland, the Kentucky And the Tennessee Down the Wochita, the Wichita the Red and the Yazoo.
But Heyer’s intention is more than just to quote Lorentz. His list is a formal means of invoking the sense of national unity that is his film’s aim. In ‘gathering’ these places, the nationalist impulse utilizes the river system of the Murray to compound a vast and diverse geographic space. The Murray River is employed as a device that encompasses mountain regions, sheep grazing communities, fishermen, crop growers and the control of the river system through damming and land management. In this way the film attends to a host of micro-communities with the river as their rhetorical link. Heyer’s film is not only about the communities that inhabit the region around the Murray, it is also about the problems faced by the community’s relationship with the water and the land. Indeed, The Valley is Ours addresses the problems of overfarming that are so apparent in The Plow that Broke the Plains, The River, The Land and The Valley of the Tennessee. In The Valley is Ours, like The River and The Valley of the Tennessee, part of the system that maintains the community of the Murray Valley is a hydro-electric scheme. This represents an ideal in the discourse of post-war in Australia as well as providing a mirror to the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Snowy Mountains scheme, as it is known today, was also one of the highest profile government initiatives, given further impetus because of its inculcating of migration upon the Australian imagination. In fact much of the discourse surrounding the scheme turned on migration in terms of nation-building. Bolton explains the cultural significance of the project in words that recall both Grierson’s recommendations and those of the New Deal.
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The Snowy Mountains scheme could … stand as a striking symbol of constructive national purpose, with recent migrants contributing to that recurring Australian dream of making the wilderness fruitful and generating power for the service of industry and the well being of people. It epitomized many of the things dearest to the Chifley government: the promotion of national development by wise administrative decision and by co-operation between the states and Commonwealth, the provision of opportunity for disadvantaged newcomers, the vindication in the world’s eyes of Australian skill and Australian capacity to plan great designs and execute them. (Bolton 1996: 57–58) The hydro-electric system is one aspect of the community of the Murray Valley. In this way, The Valley is Ours is less about problems that need to be addressed (although this is included in parts of the film) and more about the value of the Murray River to the community that surrounds it. The narrator says, ‘The Murray serves the people of the valley, then rolls into the sea’. This is the understanding from the outset. The film, after the initial litany of places, journeys all over the valley, almost as if its structure is at the mercy of the elements, with threats of storms and bushfires. The valley’s endurance in the face of overfarming, erosion and desalination is just as important as what has already been achieved. Unlike The River which emphasizes the linear flow of the rivers from north to south, The Valley is Ours meanders, invoking a journey motif initially in the images of the Murray River’s journey from the mountains to the sea only to depart from the linear journey to take into account various communities that surround the river. The Valley is Ours also insistently focuses on individuals who populate the valley, moving in on their stories, then extending these anecdotes out onto the larger story of the valley as metaphors for nation-building and reconstruction. The prologue to the film exemplifies this process. As a means of introducing the Murray Valley, the film begins with shots of snow-covered plains and mountains, and a man skiing as the principle narrator says ‘there is snow on the roof of Australia’. These shots and narration set up the background for a coming ‘thaw’. However, the film then makes its first diversion into personal anecdote. A farmer in a pick-up with a calf in the rear is imaged driving through the valley. The camera enters the pick-up, the spectator travels with the farmer and the narration is taken up by him. Looks like there’s nobody home at the Stewart’s place Tom’s probably out getting his droving plant together. He took 2,000 Merinos up on top after the thaw last year. Jim Bourke with a mob of … Herefords, must be bringing them into his own paddock ready to go up on the high plain after the thaw. Best food you can get up there after the snow’s gone. Nice cattle. This stream of consciousness narration was common in documentaries of the period – one precursor being Humphrey Jennings’ Diary for Timothy (1945) where a farmer, a miner, a railway worker and a pilot provide this kind of shifting, subjective commentary.
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The film then leaves the farmer for a sequence where the snow melts and we hear the litany of river names with accompanying images of flowing water, taking us to Goolwa at the mouth of the river. After this sequence the film again shifts back to the personal and anecdotal, as images of sheep and drovers are accompanied by another first-person narration belonging to a drover. We move off at first light and average about five miles a day. It used to be a two to one gamble but the government put bores along the route like this one. A drove could be anything from three or four days to three or four months. Sixteen weeks living in a saddle and making your home in a plant wagon. Our plant’s usually me, the missus and kids, two hands and fourteen horses and the old man. We’re taking this mob to Deniliquin. Got about 200 miles to go yet. At the same time, the initial linear journey that the film sets up with the narrative of snow melting into rivulets, streams and rivers which eventuate in the Murray River running to the sea is displaced through the shifts in narration, subject matter and, in particular, space mirroring the meandering of Flaherty’s The Land. This pattern of shifting location indiscriminately occurs throughout the film. The Valley is Ours begins in the mountains, moves down to the river’s mouth, then back to the drover on his way to Deniliquin, then to fishermen back at the river’s mouth, then up the river to a fruit-grower in the Riverina. In a sequence involving a wheat farmer and a storm warning, the film sets off on another sub-sequence of dramatic spatial shifts; the radio connects the farmer to a bikini-clad woman on a beach to a punter placing bets on the races, only to return to the farmer when the radio announces that the storm is not a danger. This location-shifting establishes the valley as a metaphor for the nation, corresponding with Grierson’s recommendations as well as the ideals of nation building and reconstruction current at the time. At each location we are asked to translate anecdotes onto the larger map of Australia. This is done most explicitly when the film invokes tragedies of storms and bushfires and the principle narrator tells us ‘in a typical valley town, they get together to work things out’. We are then introduced to a collection of officials, including councillors, stock and station agents, and representatives of the waterfront – one of whom gets up to tell his story, like the farmer in The Land. In the most dramatic spatial and temporal shift, this story takes the spectator with the character/narrator on a personal journey which evolves into a didactic cadenced speech reminiscent of Lorentz’s films. When I went into the Mallee 25 years ago, just after the First World War, it was healthy country. As far as you could see, nothing but tree-covered plains and rolling hills. All we had to do was clear a few acres and help ourselves to bumper wheat crops. Money from home! So we smashed up the scrub and rolled it over. Cleared it bare as the back of your hand. Ploughed up every square acre we could lay a hand on. Ploughed and sowed a thousand acres, then waited, watched. And sure enough, we got full, heavy crops, fifteen bags for the acre. We reckon we were made. So, rip it off and plough again. And we got another bumper crop, full as they come. This was it. We were going
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to be rich. Rip it off, plough again. But we did it once too often. The heavy loam soil became fine red dust. We didn’t realise the scrub we cleared held it together. We soon found out. In this sequence it is possible to see a personal narration common to the other anecdotal sequences directly amplified onto larger problems. The sequence does not return to the town hall, but moves through more ‘documentary’ images of dust storms, erosion, then reafforestation, contour ploughing and dam building. Part of this sequence introduces a bushfire watch maintained from an aircraft with accompanying images of landscape taken from the air. This imagery allows the film to construct a coda which is a mirror of the final images of The Overlanders. In this coda, which includes the choric narration and the exclamation ‘the valley is ours!’, the overhead landscape images are interspersed with close-ups of the fisherman from Goolwa, the fruit grower from the Riverina and the soldier-settler with the frame of his new house in the background. In The Overlanders after McAlpine boards the plane at Brisbane, images of drovers and herds of cattle in the ‘mass migration south’, are interspersed with medium shots of drovers watching the plane fly overhead. Both films emphasize the plane – but differently. The Overlanders puts us in the plane with Dan, the Parsons, and other people. The Valley is Ours puts all of ‘us’ in the plane. Although the character types in both films look to the sky in very similar ways as the planes pass overhead (there are three drovers in The Overlanders and the three characters in The Valley is Ours), it seems that these sequences function differently. The plane in The Valley is Ours can ‘see’ the land as a whole (metaphorically ‘the nation’) and, like the film itself, allows ‘us’ to understand beyond the individual local understandings of those people we have seen. In The Overlanders, this sequence displays the ‘nation’s’ response to a government initiative, as well as representing the ordinary person at work in the cause of the war effort. In The Valley is Ours, these people are rebuilding the nation and, more importantly, they are character types who appeared earlier in the film representing the principle occupants of the valley – and to some extent of rural Australia in general. This typology recalls Higson’s understanding of Watt’s use of stereotypes in his wartime documentaries. The character types in The Overlanders and The Valley is Ours are also very like the character types that appear in The Valley of the Tennessee and The Land as part of the FSA legacy. Most importantly, both the hydro-electric transformation and the new understanding of the river are being made by and for people. While The River, in keeping with the New Deal, eventually considers that there is a need for a response to the problems facing the Mississippi, it does not focus on the communities of the river valley. It is more intent on asserting the role of the federal government in initiating schemes which will address problems of flood, erosion and overfarming. Unlike The River and The Valley of the Tennessee, and like The Land, The Valley is Ours is more subdued in its placement of governmental forces. For The Valley is Ours, government is included without being omnipotent. The Valley is Ours asserts that, despite some problems such as erosion and salinity, fundamentally all is well. The emphasis is on the way that the community around the river maintains itself in relation to the landscape of the Murray
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Valley. Heyer would revisit many of the same ideas and structures in his most famous film, the feature documentary, The Back of Beyond. Night Mail, The Overlanders and The Back of Beyond are all about journeys that begin again as soon as they are completed. In Heyer’s film The Back of Beyond we are introduced to Tom Kruse, Henry, and Paddy as they are completing one journey, possibly arriving at Marree, before another journey commences. In this prologue it is possible to see an allusion to The Overlanders. Like Watt’s film, The Back of Beyond is about an ongoing journey encapsulated in the narration ‘every fortnight the story begins’. This also reflects Night Mail, where the train that transports the mail from London to Glasgow is involved in a never-ending oscillation. And at another level, the opening scenes of The Back of Beyond invoke a journey structure only to divert into anecdote, like The Valley is Ours. The opening sequence of The Back of Beyond introduces a region of Australia. We see images of a hawk swooping on a bearded lizard, of dinosaur bones, an invocation of Aboriginal communities, of the explorers Sturt and Eyre, the inland sea, and of settlers and drovers imaged in a manner similar to many shots in Heyer’s sections of The Overlanders. Then a truck appears over a sand dune and we meet Tom Kruse, Henry and Paddy. The narrator tells us that the truck contains ‘supplies and mail for lonely cattle stations. Stations measured in thousands of miles. Where the man living a hundred miles away is your neighbour and the only link with the outside world is Her Majesty’s Royal Mail’. The last shot accompanying this narration is of the track, taken from the cabin of the truck. In this manner the film sets up a journey and its purpose. The truck becomes bogged on the dunes and has to back up while metal sheets are placed across the affected areas of the track. The truck wheels around on a dry clay bed to gain momentum before it can cross the dunes. The narrator then introduces us to ‘a carrier called Kruse. Every fortnight fighting the sand 700 miles to Birdsville and back. Every fortnight the story begins’. All this occurs in an unspecified place somewhere along the track. The journey proper begins in the next scene as Tom and Henry prepare and load the truck. But as soon as it is established that another journey is about to commence, the film diverts again. Tom waves hello to a figure in the distance and the narrator draws a comparison between the two. Two battlers of the Birdsville track. Tom Kruse, who goes out today in a truck, and Bejah, last of the Lords of the desert, who carried out food and water on a string of 50 camels. Old Bejah … the giant Afghan who fought the desert by compass and Koran. Bejah incants a prayer as a woman sprinkles water and wheat on a grave and the narrator translates. This anecdote is, at the same time, a character sketch and a divergence from the anticipated journey structure, before the latter even begins. It also dissipates the Tom Kruse character, understanding him as an ongoing function of this community, continuing the role once played by Bejah, as well as the Aborigines and the explorers who have been described in the initial sequence. Over images of desert the narrator says ‘part of a vanishing race, the Australian Aborigine, trading ochre and pituri from the south for the black stone axe of the north. Where the explorers Sturt and Eyre came in search of an inland sea twelve million years too
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late’. Ross Gibson has said that ‘the figure of Tom Kruse buys into a whole bushman tradition’ (Gibson 1987: 88), but this figure also belongs to the tradition of documentary and social character types we have seen at work from the beginnings of documentary film-making itself. Across these films it is possible to identify a shift from the likes of Nanook and Dan McAlpine in The Overlanders to ‘anonymous’ farmers and drovers and the individual social character types designated in The Valley is Ours as ‘fruit grower’, ‘fisherman’, ‘soldier-settler’ and then onto the more individuated character types in The Back of Beyond. As well as Bejah and Tom, there is Malcolm Arkaringa, who journeys with Tom and enables one of the lengthier diversions during which we meet another type, the Dingo hunter Jack the Dogger. The connection between the land and people is often made where the film’s narrative becomes character driven. The most cited example of such a connection in The Back of Beyond is the story of two lost girls which appears out of the territory that surrounds the track that Tom Kruse travels. This legend of failure provides a distinct departure from the narrative drive of the journey. Kruse’s truck leaves Clifton Hills; and over various long shots of the truck traversing the landscape, (including various mid- and foregrounded car wrecks and graves), the narrator says: Last of the five stations living along the track, where once there were fifteen. The others have gone, beaten by loneliness and drought and their homes reduced to a windswept grave, a crumbling wall. Proud homes built four square and hard, broken by the relentless cycle of the sun until all that remains is the music of their names. Mirra Mitta, Appatunkna, Killalpapina, Oorawillanni. The people are gone, but their stories live on in the tales and the legends of the track – travelling, as they did, across the sand and the stones; as the story of the two children whose mother died while their father was away mustering cattle. It was early September, so the story goes … This narration sets up the story of the two girls amid images of death, isolation, loneliness, wind, drought and sand. These motifs are included in the music, stories, ‘tales and legends of the track’. The film just goes off onto this anecdote about the little girls lost. It is an engaging anecdote in itself but the question you can ask yourself when you are watching it is ‘how does this fit into the narrative of the film?’ I think its fit has to do with the very idea of the criss-crossing of stories and how stories actually make a kind of net provisionally, for anybody to make their culture hold itself down in any particular location. (Gibson 1987: 84) Another major diversion in the film occurs when Tom, Henry and Malcolm encounter the flooded Cooper’s Creek, where the truck must be unloaded and goods shipped across the creek onto the secondary vehicle on the other side. This sequence recalls a host of westerns where a river provides a similar source of narrative tension. It also recalls another early documentary, Cooper and Schoedsack’s Grass. This film, about a massive sheep and goat drive, includes a
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scene where the Karun River must be crossed, resulting in the loss of human and animal life. That is, this diversion is also an entirely expected component of a journey across a wilderness. The employment of diversions to the narrative, according to Gibson, can be extended out onto the cultural realm. The road itself is the narrative trope which allows the film to move in a narrative line but also allows it to stop and digress whenever there is the need to. The idea of an ending which necessarily has to be the beginning of something else happens all the way through. This is explicitly stated in the voice-over commentary: ‘Every night the story begins’. So there is never a finished product of culture in this situation. The only way that culture can continue to exist as culture is as a process. Every time the process stops – like it does at Father Vogelsang’s Mission, it ceases to endure as a cultural artefact or product. This why the gramophone is such an important metaphor for it. The idea of continual circular motion is very well summed up in that motif. (Gibson 1987: 90)3 It is possible to see this kind of anecdotal journey emerging in The Overlanders, structuring The Valley is Ours and coming to full fruition in The Back of Beyond. We have also seen how other kinds of journey structures operate in The River and The Land. In some ways The Back of Beyond can be seen as a commingling of The Overlanders and The Valley is Ours, as it draws on the way these two films associate character types with the land and the response of the land to human occupation. In these ways, The Back of Beyond is about adaptation. Gibson has associated The Back of Beyond with the British documentary movement very much as I have. It must have been seen as the last possible film that could be made in the Night Mail tradition. It must have seemed a particularly strange mutant of the Night Mail tradition. It is about communications, it is about the delivery of messages. But it is also about adaptation. The Back of Beyond seems a very peculiar adaptation of Night Mail. (Gibson 1987: 83) Unlike Night Mail’s simplification of a complex process into a linear journey, Heyer’s film seems to be less about movement and more about the community’s relationship with the land and even about a certain sense of community. In this respect the film is closer in many ways to the American documentaries, The Valley of the Tennessee and The Land. Like Night Mail, it is a representation of an ongoing process – except in this case, as Gibson asserts, the emphasis is on what this process means to an infant culture. In response to a comment by Tom O’Regan about the use of panning and other camera movement in The Back of Beyond, Gibson asserts that: On purely formal terms what it does is to create a powerful sense of offscreen space all the time which helps give the viewer a sense that anything s/he sees is just one spot on a continuum. This works to invalidate any idea of a contained spatial entity
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and by implication a contained cultural product. In a way too the Birdsville track is not necessarily a road that goes from A to B but it is instead one you have to bend around, because Tom’s run goes A, B, A, B. Heyer finds all kinds of formal methods to develop this idea of an ongoing process. (Gibson 1987: 91) All the American and Australian films that I have cited involve a major transformation of the land by the community as well as a change of the community by the land. Lorentz’s films explicitly call for this kind of change while The Land’s ‘fragments of a lost epic song’ (Kracauer qtd in Griffith 1972: 142) reconfigure Lorentz’s embracing of governmental forces into mourning for a time when life for people on the land was simpler. In The Overlanders an unexpected journey requires a particular engagement with the land to complete a task, while The Valley is Ours employs a vaster sense of communities gathered around the Murray River that has been harnessed into a transformation of the land for the national good. In The Back of Beyond, however, it is Heyer’s emphasis on ongoing storytelling which renders the community onto the land. For Gibson, The Back of Beyond represents a signpost in the development of a concept of truth that involves a relationship between culture and nature. In reply to Tom O’Regan’s pointing out Heyer’s assertion that the landscape needs to be ‘foregrounded as an active participant’, Gibson maintains that the positioning of the landscape in The Back of Beyond is an attempt to present ‘one component of a symbiotic relationship’. There is a society operating on the Birdsville track which puts some of its shape onto the environment but there is also the environment putting some of its shape onto the society. So there is, once again a blurring of that easy distinction of nature and culture that operates elsewhere. (Gibson 1987: 86) For Heyer, one part of this blurring of distinctions occurs at the pre-production stage. Heyer’s films are all tightly scripted. In the interview with Martha Ansara he tells how, in a reflection of Flaherty and Watt, he ‘made three trips to the area … Oh yes, lots of trips. And you must learn the history of the place, read up all about it etc., talk to people out there.’ However, he also talks about the storytelling nature of scriptwriting. ‘You’ve got to think it up. You’ve got to dream it up’. This notion of the script recalls Brian Winston’s criticisms of The Land. Heyer’s emphasis on the ‘material of the script’ is a slight departure from Grierson’s idealization of Flaherty’s method where Flaherty ‘lives with his people till the story is told “out of himself”’. In an interview with Gordon Glenn and Ian Stocks, Heyer provides an insight into the relationship between the found story and the script. It is crucial to me that I know the subject completely. I slowly make up long lists of categories and items which seem to have potential. I put down everything – weather, life cycles, and so on; as well as the places and ideas I think of that seem to be fertile. Then I try and relate these together.… I make the film in my mind, shot for shot before I start. By scripting a practicable basis, you save a lot of money and give yourself more
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time to be fluid. I always know that if anything goes wrong, I can shoot what I have written down and it will be all right, Also you need something more tangible than what is in your mind so as to communicate with, for instance, the cameraman. (Glenn and Stocks 1976: 190) Another part of this idea of shaping environment into a film again occurs at the level of characterization. Through the types we have already mentioned, The Back of Beyond enables a discourse of multiculturalism. The Afghan Bejah, Father Vogelsan’s Lutheran Mission and Aboriginal men, like Malcolm and Henry, represent an ideal of ethnic diversity which contributes to the anecdotal journey motif, in which people adapt to their surroundings. In the world the film proposes it is not unusual or surprising to find such a diversity of character types. They sit well with the films’ notions of anecdote, diversion, circularity and adaptation. Not long after The Back of Beyond was released Heyer left Australia to join onetime Grierson associates Arthur Elton and Stuart Legg, as Executive Producer of films and television for Shell International in London (Interview with Pike and Edmondson). The international distribution and reception of The Back of Beyond indicates a certain recognition amongst international audiences of the film’s drawing on the discourse of the landscape documentary. The reception of The Back of Beyond also enabled Heyer to further extend his participation in the world of documentary film in an international career making films in Europe, Asia and Australia. The next chapter will examine another film in terms of its belonging to international discourses: those of Italian neo-realism and post-war migration. Like the films we have been discussing Mike and Stefani also employs an eccentric journey structure which can be understood in relation to the discourse of Personalism as propounded by Emmanuel Mounier, Roger Leenhardt and André Bazin. Notes 1. At this time the Venice Festival was the premier artistic, as opposed to commercial, film festival. Awards at Venice would have attracted the attention of ‘serious’ film critics such as those that ran film societies and other film festivals. 2. Calder-Marshall writes that, although Russell Lord is credited with writing the commentary, ‘he maintained that what he did was listen to Flaherty’s own comments as he watched the silent picture and wrote them down’. The ‘incantatory passages’, Calder-Marshall feels sure, are derived from Lorentz. (Calder-Marshall 1963: 198) 3. This circular motif also recalls the famous scene from Flaherty’s Nanook of the North where Nanook and his family visit the trading post to sell their furs. In this scene Nanook and the others are fascinated by the gramophone.
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4 The Neo-Realism of Mike and Stefani
Mike and Stefani is a 64-minute docu-drama made in 1952 by the Film Division, Commonwealth Department of the Interior for the Australian Commonwealth Department of Immigration, directed by the Catholic filmmaker R. Maslyn Williams. The film was shot in Europe by a two-man crew employing some archival footage and a mostly post-synch soundtrack recorded in Australia. The narrative was based on the real-life experiences of Mycola and Stefani S., who reenacted their lives for the film. It is a docu-drama that tells their story as well as that of Mike’s brother Ladu and Mike and Stefani’s daughter Ginga whose lives are turned upsidedown by the Second World War. The film begins in a peaceful and idyllic Europe where Mike and Stefani are on their honeymoon. War soon approaches, initially bringing about their imprisonment in a labour camp. Later the couple is separated while Ladu joins the partisans. Stefani and Ginga travel across the Alps and make it to a displaced persons camp where they are eventually reunited with Mike and Ladu beginning a long process which culminates in an immigration selection interview and the commencement of their journey to Australia. Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, relying on an interview Pike and Merrilyn Fitzpatrick conducted with Maslyn Williams, state that the film was made, ostensibly, for the official government propaganda outlet to counter criticism about Australian immigration selection as well as to encourage Australians to accept non-British immigrants in the post-war years (Pike and Cooper 1980: 279) and that Williams ‘conceived the film as a neo-realist drama, at a time when most Australian filmmakers were producing films exclusively in the Hollywood idiom’ (Pike and Cooper 1980: 280). Shirley and Adams agree that ‘like the later work of Cecil Holmes, Mike and Stefani showed the director’s empathy with Italian neo-realist filmmakers, humane but uncompromising in its portrayal of real events’ (Shirley and Adams 1989: 192). Albert Moran agrees with Pike and Cooper that the film ‘has much of the same mise en scène and iconography of Neorealism’ (Moran 1991: 47) but extends their categorization with some textual evidence.
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The characters depicted are ordinary people, much of the film was shot on location and the film depicts a set of contemporary events. Mike and Stefani has a raw, rough feeling to its images … Given the circumstances of the film’s making, as well as the evidence of the images on the screen, Mike and Stefani has further connections with Neorealism. The film was mostly shot in available light, and apart from the close up of Mike’s face against a black background when he becomes a German prisoner, the film avoids the ‘three-point’ lighting system of Hollywood. (Moran 1991: 47) Moran attends to the narration of Mike and Stefani describing it as a ‘voice-over narration by an omniscient commentator [that] constantly works to link the story of Mike and Stefani to the larger arena of events.… This voice, like the titles at the head of different segments of the film, has parallels in other Neorealist films such as Rossellini’s Paisa’ (Moran 1991: 48). Moran also describes the ‘loose and episodic’ narrative, the ‘open ended’ ending, and asserts that ‘like the Neorealist films of [Roberto] Rossellini, [Vittorio] de Sica, [Luchino] Visconti and the other Italian filmmakers, the causes of character actions in Mike and Stefani are concretely economic, political and historical, most especially to do with World War Two and its aftermath’ (Moran 1991: 47). Rossellini’s earlier Stromboli (1949) makes for a strong comparison with Mike and Stefani.1 This comparison can be performed in terms of narrative structure and style but it is the thematics of the two films that bears the closest relation. An immediate point of comparison is the use of Australia in Stromboli as a possible destination for immigration. When Karen (Ingrid Bergman) and Antonio (Mario Vitale) board the boat that takes them to the island they meet the man from the lighthouse (Mario Sponzo) who says ‘I was a prisoner too in Australia’, to which Antonio replies ‘I was in South Africa’. Later when the couple have arrived on Stromboli they are told by the priest (Renzo Casana) ‘So many of our people have already left, or are waiting to leave for Argentina, Australia, America, France, England, wherever they have relatives to send them money to go.’ The narrative structures of the films can be compared. Stromboli is about Karen, a displaced person. The film begins in a DP camp in Farfa, Italy where she is attempting to find a way out of the camp. After having her visa application to Argentina denied she marries an Italian soldier Antonio from the island of Stromboli and the remainder of the film concerns her new life on the island. Both films include a selection/visa process in DP camps and Stromboli includes a female DP camp official who could be compared to the female camp official in Mike and Stefani. Both Stefani and Karen set out on journeys across mountains; Stefani with her newborn daughter Ginga, Karen with her unborn child. Karen’s journey to Stromboli has taken her from Czechoslovakia to Yugoslavia and Italy while the protagonists of Mike and Stefani journey through many countries. Both films conclude with open endings. Mike and Stefani are headed to an uncertain future in Australia while it is unclear what Karen will do. Stylistically Stromboli and Mike and Stefani are alike. The opening scenes in the DP camp in Stromboli look like the interior scenes in the DP camp in Mike and Stefani with their comparatively
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stylized lighting, mise-en-scène of bunk beds, and shadowy figures caused by simple lighting arrangements. The opening scenes in Stromboli also have a variety of European accents in the voices of the women. Ingrid Bergman and Stefani have similar, eastern European accents, blonde hair and fine facial features. Karen is Lithuanian and Stefani Ukrainian while Mario Vitale and Mike are dark-haired stocky figures. Both films associate their female protagonists with entrapment with both Karen and Stefani imaged against barbed-wire and in confined interior spaces. Given all this it may be possible to understand Stromboli as a (somewhat distant) model for Mike and Stefani in the same way that Lorentz, Watt and Flaherty provided models for Heyer’s films as discussed in the previous chapter. Yet this simple comparison doesn’t adequately account for Mike and Stefani (or for that matter Stromboli). In their writing about Mike and Stefani Pike and Cooper, and Moran, to a lesser degree, spell out the production circumstances of the film, not to connect these to the discourse of Italian neo-realism so much as to set up the film’s opposition to the idea of the ‘Hollywood idiom’ (Pike and Cooper 1980: 279). To make the film, Maslyn Williams was sent to Europe in June 1949, accompanied only by an experienced cameraman, Reg Pearse. Their budget was meagre (about £5000) and their equipment limited to what the two men could carry (a 35mm camera with three lenses, a wire recorder for sound, and a few lights). (Pike and Cooper 1980: 278) As Tom O’Regan points out films like Mike and Stefani have been examined in relation to the difficulties local Australian film-makers had in making features during this period. It’s as if the films made – no matter what their intent or their film style – necessarily have to be overdetermined by the difficult conditions under which they were produced. The marks of the difficult conditions of the 1950s have for too long stood for an analysis of the films themselves. (O’Regan 1987: 1) O’Regan goes on to point to the problem that is faced when the era of the 1950s is also understood ‘as the moment of a cultural philistinism in which there was a general turning away from culture under an authoritarian political hegemony led by the conservative [Menzies] government’(O’Regan 1987: 2). One of O’Regan’s responses to what he terms the ‘assumption’ of hegemony is to invoke ‘the effective importation of art-cinema discourses into both film-culture and into cinema and documentary experiments of the 1950s’ (O’Regan 1987: 2). Again O’Regan is referring to films such as Mike and Stefani. The problem with these assertions about Mike and Stefani – that it has a ‘loose and episodic’ narrative, and ‘open ended’ ending, that the causes of character actions are related to the Second World War, that it can be compared to Stromboli, that it is a neo-realist drama that emerges out of the 1950s and ‘straitened circumstances’ and that this can be countered with an emphasis on ‘successful importation of art-cinema discourses’ – is that these assertions avoid a discussion of the film itself at the same time as they close down the possibilities for an expanded discussion
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of the film’s relation to Italian neo-realism. Mike and Stefani, though it may offer some formal characteristics common to a particular idea of Italian neo-realism, can be better understood with some close attention to the world view of French Catholic film critic André Bazin. While his writing on neo-realism was less influential in 1952 than it is today, the figure of Bazin can be read as almost unconsciously articulating the deep structure of neo-realism, particularly its importance to progressive post-war Catholicism such as that practised by Maslyn Williams. Bazin’s writing on neo-realism, according to Dudley Andrew in his biography of the French critic, displays the significant influence of Emmanuel Mounier and the French Catholic left of the 1930s and 1940s. Bazin’s theory of realism, in relation to Italian cinema of the immediate post-war, leads to a productive narrative, formal and aesthetic comparison with Mike and Stefani. Having established the spiritual, theoretical and aesthetic grounding that underpins the discourse of neo-realism according to Bazin it will be useful to extend this schema by comparing Bazin and Rosselini’s notion of neo-realism with some traditions in melodrama. I will then retrace some of Bazin’s steps in relation to the other understandings of realism that influenced Williams. Having provided this framework it will be possible to propose a reading of Mike and Stefani in relation to notions of spirituality, belief and grace. Some preliminary biographical material may enable a better understanding of Bazin’s particular take on neo-realism. Dudley Andrew, in his biography of Bazin, explains how Bazin took Christian intellectual Roger Leenhardt, Esprit contributor and later film critic, as a model (Andrew 1990: 30).2 Andrew asserts that initially Bazin was drawn to Esprit for its intellectual approach to many things and that it was Leenhardt’s writing in the journal that drew Bazin to cinema. Bazin’s first serious consideration of cinema arose in response to the film columns he read monthly in Esprit. In 1938 and 1939 Bazin’s interest in cinema was casual and he read Leenhardt’s reviews primarily because they were published in Esprit; Leenhardt, however, remained the only film critic to whom he could look for a model. (Andrew 1990: 30) The significance of Leenhardt was that he was a model for Bazin, not only as a film critic, but because his work introduced readers to Personalism (Andrew 1990: 32). Importantly for this discussion, Personalism is connected to film through Leenhardt’s ideas about realism. Andrew quotes Leenhardt at length from his ‘little Handbook’. The lens gives the cineaste brute matter. Even though the subject may be imaginary, even though you have trained some actors, this changes nothing. The actors nevertheless should perform in the most natural manner because the power of reality which is revealed on the screen is such that the slightest stylization diverts it. And the proper role of the mise-en-scene of the production will be to give the impression that there is no mise-en-scene. Not a studied creation of ‘significance’ by means of acting and decor, but a simple job of ‘rendering.’ Not a wilful artistry of expression,
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but a technical effort at description. Precisely because of this primordial realism, it [the proper role of the mise-en-scene] is not in the cinematographic material or, if I may say so, in art, but only in connections, comparisons, and ellipses. (Leenhardt qtd by Andrew 1990: 32) Leenhardt’s approach to realism emphasises the adaptation of the cinema to reality rather than the manipulation of reality. As Andrew points out, the key word here is ‘render’. The other emphasis is on ellipsis rather than metaphor where ‘cinema is not a symbol system substituting one set of signs for another (as classical film aesthetics asserts), but an always partial view of something significant that tries to appear through it’ (Andrew 1990: 32). For Leenhardt and later Bazin, the world should be ‘rendered’ rather than imposed in a rhetorical or metaphoric manner because rather than understanding one’s position as being one of subjection to a God, one should understand that ‘one must look out of oneself with a constructive humility toward the mystery of being’ (Andrew 1990: 33). It is ‘startling’ Andrew writes, ‘to consider Bazin’s criticism in the light of Leenhardt’s views’ (Andrew 1990: 33). As an example of Leenhardt’s influence Andrew cites the film-makers that Bazin admired the most. He claims that they illustrate Bazin’s adoption of a Personalist world view. Orson Welles expresses the mystery of the cosmos; Rossellini preaches personal revolution through self-effacement; and Jean Renoir, humanist filmmaker par excellence, watches with affection man’s interplay with man and society’s interplay with nature. (Andrew 1990: 33) When he took over from Leenhardt as film critic for Esprit, Bazin brought to the role a closer affinity with the journal’s founder and guiding light Emmanuel Mounier ‘spokesman for the personalist movement, the founder and editor of Esprit, and the single most important influence on André Bazin’s world view’ (Andrew 1990: 33). According to Andrew, Mounier claimed that Personalism was a perspective and a method rather than a system (Andrew 1990: 33). Mounier’s Personalism can be productively understood in relation to the historical moment from which it arose: Europe and France in the 1930s. In particular Personalism can be understood as a response to what it regarded as the many anti-individualist voices of the period (the communists, fascists, National Socialists, and Christian Idealists). In a biography of Mounier, John Hellman quotes Mounier’s response to this phenomenon Fascism and communism … are the first starts of the immense communitarian wave which is beginning to break over Europe.… Men … are going to try to rediscover the path of community. All their efforts will be spiritual to some degree.… Most will also menace the spiritual at some point.… But one does not condemn a vital initiative for the dangers in its path … we want to take our responsibilities in the face of the second Renaissance. Remake the Renaissance.… It is to be remade doubly … personalist and communitarian. (Mounier qtd in Hellman 1981: 83–84)
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Hellman sketches out the constant process of negotiation and adaptation that Esprit and Mounier in particular engaged in when various political forces launched attacks on the journal. While Mounier understood Esprit to be, as the title suggests, a journal for ‘spiritual action’ in the broadest sense, its actual associations meant that any definition of what Esprit stood for necessitated defining what it stood against (Hellman 1981: 43). Attacks against Esprit came from the Catholic church, Marxists, fascists, anarchists and spiritualists primarily because the journal’s contributors were made up of people who were members of, or saw merit in, other politically affiliated organizations. Early in its life Esprit was criticized, Janet Staiger recalls, for ‘trying to articulate a French national socialism (Staiger 1984: 100–101). Only a few years later, according to Hellman, the journal published articles by Gaston Fessard a French Jesuit intellectual said to be ‘the only prominent French Catholic intellectual to have studied Marx seriously at the time’ (Hellman 1981: 102). For Mounier his primary target, like the fascists and the communists, was the middle class. Yet, for Mounier, it was the ideal of personal revolution that was being propounded. Mounier asserted that the true community was a reality as fundamental as that of the person: communities which transcended mere material interests could become a ‘person of persons’; ‘spiritual’ really meant the same as ‘personal’ (‘spirituel = personnel’); for the Christian ‘every community, including the total human community, is rooted in the Mystical Body of a divine incarnated Person.’ In order to grasp what Mounier meant one must juxtapose the notion of ‘person’ to that of the ‘individual.’ Individualism was ‘completely devoted to well-being and security, and completely devoid … of all madness, of all mystery, of the sense of being and the sense of love, of suffering and of joy.…’ The person was ‘animated’ by the spiritual, ‘revealed’ in communities; it was not a ‘personality,’ but a ‘presence’ in someone: ‘My person is the presence and the unity of an eternal vocation in me, which calls me to surpass myself indefinitely. (Hellman 1981: 82–83) Mounier’s communitarian Personalism presented itself in the idea of the Third Way which was a distillation of a spiritual Personalism in the face of fascism, communism and capitalism. Ever since his school days Mounier had perceived ‘spirituality’ in non-religious friends. Now he perceived all humanity striving towards what the new Catholic theologians were calling the ‘Mystical Body of Christ’: every personal community, every ‘spiritual’ community ‘participated’ in it. Mounier explained that ‘at times, in a love, with a family, some friends, we touch that personal community. A country can approach it in the most beautiful moments of its history.’ (Hellman 1981: 85) Underpinning this idea of Personalism was the human agent involved in a working towards freedom for humanity. For Mounier, history involves a dialectic comprised of nature and personal activity (Staiger 1984: 101), which means that people are the agents of history and must take responsibility for their actions. It is possible to see the links here between Mounier’s Personalism and the early Existentialism of Sartre. Yet Mounier remains true to his Catholic beginnings. According to Staiger,
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Mounier understood historical events as a convergence of natural forces and personal activity. People were in a localized time and space, in a unique set of circumstances. Yet people were free because they were given responsibility for their own destinies. While the individual would need to transcend his or her own self, this transcendence was not a spatial distance but a qualitative one. To transcend was to be decisive, to make choices, to act with love, to respond within history. (Staiger 1984: 101) To link up these notions with the formation of Bazin’s ideas it is important to note that Mounier’s vagueness may have been a wariness of a systematic response to the confusion and vagaries of the world. Mounier, (with Henri Bergson and Maurice Blondel as mentors), had a distrust of ‘abstract metaphysics and relie[d] on human action to define the world en route … personalism … is an attitude that situates man between the two opposed tendencies of philosophy: systematization and solipsism’ (Andrew 1990: 33). Mounier’s emphasis on personal action in the world illuminated Bazin’s writing on cinema and in particular his understanding of ‘style’ which emerged in the journal Cahiers du Cinéma’s auteur policy. In the confusion and incongruence of the world, ‘constructive action’ was perhaps an appropriate response. Andrew argues that Bazin’s true film-maker attains his power through ‘style’, which, like the person, is not a thing to be expressed but an inner orientation enabling an outward search. Of all the personalist notions adopted by Bazin, none is more central to his film theory than that of the ‘proper orientation.’ When a filmmaker has found his orientation, he has achieved style. Style guarantees him a stability of approach. It is not something given; it is something achieved, an earned self-awareness similar to the calmness gained by the personal self after temporary retreat from the world. Yet style, like the intimate self spoken of by Mounier, finds its existence only through immersion in activity. It can develop and clarify itself in retreat, but it is ‘for the world,’ and not ‘for itself.’ Style and conscience are mysterious powers (even like light) which, though literally insubstantial, are capable of revealing and transforming the substance of the world. For Mounier and Bazin, as for Sartre, man neither exhausts nor disparages nature; he adapts to it, masters it, humanizes it. ‘Man presses down on nature to overcome nature, as the airplane presses on air in order to ascend’. (Andrew 1990: 35–36) An examination of Bazin’s writing on the films of Roberto Rossellini and Rossellini’s own words continue this line of inquiry into the cultural background of Mike and Stefani. The work which best exemplifies Bazin’s Personalism (while examining the films of Rossellini and neo-realism more generally) is his essay ‘An aesthetic of reality: Neo-realism (cinematic realism and the Italian school of the liberation)’ originally published in Esprit in January 1948 (Bazin 1972). In this essay, writing primarily about Rossellini’s Paisà, Bazin provides the clearest indication of how his Personalist notions of style and morality flow into his approach to neorealism and the ideals that emanate from this essay seem most pertinent to Mike and Stefani.
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For Bazin, neo-realism, in particular the work of Rossellini, was a historical cinematic movement, like the Soviet films of Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Dovjenko in their time, ‘marking a new stage’ of great cinematic art: an art which arose from what he saw as a ‘long standing opposition between realism and aestheticism on the screen’ (Bazin 1972: 16). Part of ‘An aesthetic of reality’ is devoted to addressing neo-realism as ‘the particular form this aesthetic quarrel assumes today, the new solution to which Italian neo-realism owed its triumph in 1947’ (Bazin 1972: 16). Bazin points to a misunderstanding of the history of Italian cinema in general which led to neo-realism being considered a radically new movement in Italian cinema. He also wants to identify the effect that the ‘reality’ of Italy’s liberation has had on the country’s cinema (Bazin 1972: 19). Early in the essay he briefly addresses the continuity of Italian cinema, despite popular perceptions about the ‘origin’ of neo-realism: He writes ‘fascism which, unlike Nazism, allowed for the existence of artistic pluralism, was particularly concerned with cinema’ (Bazin 1972: 17). For Bazin, ‘there is no question that the Liberation and the social, moral and economic forms that it assumed in Italy have played a decisive role in film production’ (Bazin 1972: 17). For Bazin, reality, in the form of the conditions that Italians faced in wartime and post-war Italy, in combination with a particular aesthetic approach, gave rise to neo-realism. For Bazin the representation of the rebuilding of Italy, no matter how bleak, is primary to his interest because directors such as Rossellini ‘never forget that the world is, quite simply, before it is something to be condemned’ (Bazin 1972: 21). In this dialectical theory, where realism and aestheticism struggle, and where components that were previously in existence create a ‘synthesis’, it is possible to see a reflection of Mounier’s Personalism. Some components of the new Italian school existed before the Liberation; personnel, techniques, aesthetic trends. But it was their historical, social, and economic combination that suddenly created a synthesis in which new elements also made themselves manifest. (Bazin 1972: 19) It is this synthesis between the aesthetic and the reality of post-war Italy that attracted Bazin so passionately to neo-realism. For him Italian cinema could now participate in the ‘revolutionary humanism’ that Mounier had tried to promulgate. Bazin took up the explication and promotion of neo-realism because he understood it to be in a kind of filmic correspondence with Personalism. Andrew understands Bazin’s film theory in relation to cultural shifts: Bazin’s film aesthetics were harmonious with the political aspirations of a whole generation in Europe and the films these hopes had been able to produce in Italy. This sense of the harmony between art and life, between France and Italy, between philosophy and politics overwhelmed Bazin one evening late in 1946 in Paris, when he arranged for the French premiere of Paisà. (Bazin 1972: 119) This screening led to the publication of the ‘An aesthetic of reality’ and along with other short reviews and general agitation paved the way for neo-realism to, in Andrew’s words ‘conquer
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the rest of the world’ (Bazin 1972: 119). Bazin’s enthusiasm for Rossellini’s film, and others such as De Sica’s Shoeshine (1946) and Umberto D (1952) was due to his understanding that these films constituted the kind of ‘revolutionary’ cinema that coalesced with Bazin’s aesthetic, moral and political understanding. That is, films like Rome, Open City and Paisà could go out into the world and enable people to ‘personally’ respond to the actual conditions of the world. Bazin writes in ‘An aesthetic of reality’: What is a ceaseless source of wonder, ensuring the Italian cinema a wide moral audience among the Western nations, is the significance it gives to the portrayal of actuality. In a world already once again obsessed by terror and hate, in which reality is scarcely any longer favored for its own sake but rather is rejected or excluded as a political symbol, the Italian cinema is certainly the only one which preserves, in the midst of the period it depicts, a revolutionary humanism. (Bazin 1972: 20–21) For my purposes Bazin’s words provide two crucial ideals that inform this discussion of Mike and Stefani. First, the idea of these films going out into the world meant that they functioned as catalysts for ‘revolutionary humanism’ at a personal level. Second, Bazin’s love for Italian cinema was based on the ‘significance it gives to the portrayal of actuality’. For Bazin, this emphasis on film as praxis, doing good in the world, was the source of the film’s humanism and what he meant when he said that ‘the recent Italian films are at least prerevolutionary’ (Bazin 1972: 21). [D]oes one not, when coming out of an Italian film, feel better, an urge to change the order of things, preferably by persuading people, at least those who can be persuaded, whom only blindness, prejudice, or ill-fortune had led to harm their fellow men? … I am prepared to see the fundamental humanism of the current Italian films as their chief merit. They offer an opportunity to savor, before the time finally runs out on us, a revolutionary flavor in which terror has yet no part. (Bazin 1972: 21–22) This ‘savoring’ of ‘the revolutionary flavor’ indicates the emphasis Bazin placed on the immediate personal relationship to be had with the art work. While Paisà is overtly episodic, in that the film is broken up into six distinct episodes (in Sicily, in Naples, in Rome, in Florence, the monastery , the Po valley), it is the film’s elliptical qualities that Bazin points to, recalling Leenhardt, and argues lead the spectator to consider other things, what he calls ‘the moral of the story’ (Bazin 1972: 36). What Bazin understands to be the morality of this elliptical quality is ultimately tied to the way these events are connected to the larger drama, in the case of Paisà, the Liberation of Italy. The elliptical quality in the Florence episode, Bazin asserts, exemplifies this idea. The narrative of a woman searching for her lover while the Liberation is in process is rendered through a sense of chance encounter, of the protagonist’s story being ‘impartially divided between the heroes of the adventure and the conditions they must endure’ (Bazin 1972: 36). For Bazin this not only makes us consider
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the relations between the individuals but also between the individuals and the conditions they live under, opening out onto the other people who have to experience these conditions. These relations are all based on the idea that images we see are not shots but ‘facts’, which Bazin describes as ‘fragment[s] of concrete reality in itself multiple and full of ambiguity, whose meaning emerges only after the fact, thanks to other imposed facts between which the mind establishes certain relationships’ (Bazin 1972: 37). Bazin allows for what he terms the ‘factual integrity’ of these facts yet the onus is placed on the spectator to consider them. The facts follow one another, and the mind is forced to observe their resemblance; and thus, by recalling one another, they end by meaning something which was inherent in each and which is, so to speak, the moral of the story – a moral the mind cannot fail to grasp since it was drawn from reality itself. (Bazin 1972: 36) Staiger picks up this idea and connects it to the figure of Bazin, at this point, as a historian of cinema. Staiger wants to extend the idea that Bazin’s history was more than one of film language: If Bazin has a teleological view of history, his teleology seems more one of a progression of people interacting with and transforming nature rather than merely a movement toward a technological result and stylistic impulse. Bazin states that he cannot judge the final value or inevitability of the realist tendency. As Merleau-Ponty was arguing at this time, historical meaning is in the process of becoming in that only at the end of history would an individual’s actions within it be fully knowable and open to evaluation. For Bazin, this realist aesthetic is the current development of cinema, but he leaves open the possibility of a new synthesis. (Staiger 1984: 107) Staiger asserts that the emphasis on the spectator in relation to the events occurring in the film, in its aesthetic of realism, was what Bazin was interested in establishing – for him, in 1948, as the latest and most pertinent form of realism. But what Staiger also wants to point out is that Bazin was fully aware of the impermanence of his own assertions. For Staiger Bazin placed ‘an emphasis on this historical context, on meaning in a process of becoming, on a dialectic of individuals-in-relation-to-cinema, on a collapsed ontology and epistemology of cinema-in-livedexperience’ (Staiger 1984: 108). The emphasis on the idea of becoming in relation to history is exemplified in Bazin’s celebration of the ‘descriptive’ nature of Rossellini’s films accentuating the phenomenological thinking that influenced the work of Bazin. Rossellini, in his early films, strove to present a situation as clearly and purely as possible without analyzing it to help us understand it. This wholeness of approach which refuses the demands of our logic is a phenomenological stance toward the world. It ‘filters’ the noise of the world so we can hear a message or see its outlines. (Andrew 1990: 120) Roberto Rossellini in the article ‘A few words about neo-realism’ candidly points out his definition of the Italian cinema of the immediate post-war.
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The subject of neo-realist film is the world; not story or narrative. It contains no preconceived thesis, because ideas are born in the film from the subject. It has no affinity with the superfluous and the merely spectacular, which it refuses, but is attracted to the concrete. It does not remain on the surface, but seeks out the most subtle aspects of the soul. It refuses recipes and formulas in its search for the motivating forces in each of us. Briefly, neo-realism poses problems for us and for itself in an attempt to make people think.… We found ourselves, after the war, face-to-face with this commitment. What counted for us was the enquiry into truth, the correspondence to the real. (Rossellini 1981: 74) Bazin’s emphasis on the personal, humanist correspondence that Italian neo-realist films enabled with the historical world provides a foreshadowing of the kind of film that Williams intended Mike and Stefani to be. In this light it is possible to move on to a discussion of the growth out of actuality of Mike and Stefani. As we have already seen, Mike and Stefani has been written about as an example of certain general formal characteristics of Italian neo-realist cinema. Like films from the high moment of Italian neo-realism, the Australian film is set during and after the war in Europe. Like the Italian neo-realist films, it is shot on location in Europe using displaced people whose story is translated to film. Like some neo-realist films, in particular Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945), Paisà (1946), Germany, Year Zero (1947) and Stromboli, Mike and Stefani is ostensibly about how war affects society and how people gather their lives back together after the confusion and fragmentation of war. It also seems to be a film which articulates a world view similar to that upon which Bazin based his theories of realism. In an interview with Albert Moran, Maslyn Williams, (a close friend and Department of Information film-maker colleague of Damien Parer),3 places a particular spin on Parer’s and his own relationship to documentary models. We were both romantic Catholics. We were both people who wanted to use film as a message. There was a period when the Russians, Germans, the Hungarians and others were using film as a medium for communication and information and the British, to some extent, in the Grierson set up. Whereas the Italians, the French and the Spanish were using film in a philosophic way. Looking through different eyes at human behaviour.4 Although this quote seems to conflate the prewar documentary movements with those of wartime it does, at least, indicate that Williams wanted to represent himself at a tangent to the governmental film work being performed in post-war Australia. In working towards the larger, cultural realm of neo-realism as it relates to Mike and Stefani it is useful to begin with the preproduction work performed by Maslyn Williams. In an interview with Andrew Pike, Williams describes the social and political circumstances that gave rise to the film:
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There was a great hoo-ha going on at the time – Calwell was the [Immigration] Minister, Arthur Calwell whom I knew quite well and liked very much – about the problem of Australians accepting this sudden influx of non-British migrants who were all called balts, or wogs or dagos or whatever. This was a very difficult problem for the Government. I said [possibly to Calwell] I think if you show the Australian people, who are an emotional and sentimental people that these balts, wogs or dagos are human beings who’ve had a terrible time, you’ll find that most Australians will be on their side. But you’ve got to get down to the guts of the thing and show them reality. It’s no good telling them that they’ve had a bad time, you’ve got to show. So the Secretary General of the Department of Immigration at the time Tas Hayes, later Sir Tasman Hayes, agreed with Kevin Murphy, who was then Director of the Department of Immigration, that a film should be made and that I should be sent to Europe to make a record, first, of all of the negative side of it which was causing the Government some problems like criticism from Australians that we weren’t choosing them properly, that undesirables were slipping through the net. The other side of the question was that we had to show that these people warranted our sympathy but also our positive assistance. So they agreed about this. They had no real idea of what they wanted in the way of a film. They had no real conception of what would come out of all this and one of the satisfying things in my life is that I was able to convince people like Hayes and Murphy, who were Government servants, that I could be trusted by the Government. But they knew that I was a romantic and emotional type of person myself and that they were taking certain risks. Producer, scriptwriter and sound recordist Williams, who must also be considered the film’s director, and cameraperson Reg Pearse travelled to Europe in the Winter of 1948–49. Williams, having served with Frank Hurley, Damien Parer and George Silk in the Middle East and Greece in the Commonwealth Department of Information’s Film Unit during the Second World War, was aware of the plight of displaced people in Europe and Australia’s relationship with them. Having arrived in Europe, Williams spent some time viewing newsreel footage as part of the research for the film. In the interview with Andrew Pike, Williams elaborated on the aesthetic of reality; the dialectic of representation and reality that informed Mike and Stefani even in its pre-production. I had, incidentally, combed through the newsreel libraries in Berlin and Paris looking for material and looking at all this material that had been taken at this time trying to match it in my own mind and you’ll find in the film my material intercut with genuine material which is duped from genuine newsreels. I’d examined it all thoroughly to make sure that what I was going to do was going to be right. Also don’t forget that I’d been in the war myself and I’d seen refugees streaming out of Yugoslavia and been in with them in Greece and Yugoslavia. But I steeped myself in the material before I ever shot a foot . Williams use of the term ‘record’ in his recollection of the pre-production circumstances and his turning to ‘genuine newsreels’ suggests that he was looking to these films for factual material that
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he could transform by adapting it to a more ‘humanist’, neo-realist schema. Williams also attests to the value of what Bazin refers to in ‘An aesthetic of reality’ as a kind of ‘osmosis’ among the cast (Bazin 1972: 24). While Bazin is specifically referring to the value of mixing professional actors and non-professionals, the same idea seems pertinent to Mike and Stefani and correlates with Bazin’s idea of the story growing out of the participant’s experience. Bazin writes When the amalgamation comes off – but experience shows that it will not unless some ‘moral’ requirements are met in the script – the result is precisely that extraordinary feeling of truth that one gets from the current Italian films. Their faithfulness to a script which stirs them deeply and which calls for the minimum of theatrical pretence sets up a kind of osmosis among the cast. The technical inexperience of the amateur is helped out by the experience of the professionals while the professionals themselves benefit from the general atmosphere of authenticity. (Bazin 1972: 24) Similarly, Williams relates how he relied on the displaced persons who performed in the film to achieve the realism he was after. If you’re doing neo-realistic stuff what you do have to do is to sit down and brief your people, your cast, your actors very carefully for a long time to tell them exactly what it is you are trying to do and give them all day and overnight to think this thing through themselves so that they know how they’d respond in a given situation. Not only that but you’ve got to ask them. You’ve got to remember this, that when I picked these people and they agreed to do it I didn’t shoot anything for a fortnight. We just went around the locations together I talked [with them] about their lives. We went out and had dinners together … but never shot a thing for the first fortnight until we understood each other well and we were on first name terms. I deferred to them in every way and said look this is your film I’m only the machinery through which you tell your story. So when I said ‘look, next week we want to re-enact loading the women into the trucks or the men into trucks to be taken away from the camp I want you three blokes to get together and organise the team and work out how it happened and tell me just what we have to do to make it look real and all I’m going to do is tell the cameraman when to shoot. You have to make it go, you have to direct yourselves’. So everybody was directing. (Interview. Pike and Fitzpatrick 1977) However it is not only in these production techniques that it is possible to see some similarities with Bazin’s understanding of neo-realism. There is a strong sense in Mike and Stefani that Personalist ideas of community and cohesion emerge from the confusion and fragmentation of the war. The ideas of confusion are apparent in the variety of voice-overs and diegetic voices that the film employs, including voice-overs which are attributed to Mike, to Stefani and to the ‘Valerie Paling’ character. There are also the voices from the DP camp public address system, a gramophone English language record, radio announcers, teachers repeating ‘to get ahead’ and ‘to get abroad’. In the film’s voice-overs ‘confusion’ seems the most commonly employed word, alongside phrases like ‘the sick, the old, the undecided’. Williams points out to Pike and
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Fitzpatrick that ‘You’ll find in the medical scene, for instance, where Stefani brings her baby in, that there are seven languages spoken: Polish, Ukrainish, French, German, English, Yiddish, Russian’. The voice-over of the male narrator recalls an attendant search for unity that, as Moran has suggested, ‘constantly works to link the story of Mike and Stefani to the larger arena of events’ (Moran 1991: 48). We are told by the disembodied masculine voice-over that the camps are a ‘stumbling confusion of all the languages of Europe’, of ‘eight million people from Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Belgium, Holland, France, Estonia, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia’. The idea of the disruption of families and communities, of confusion and the quest for certainty and cohesion is summed up by the disembodied masculine voice-over which says: Eight million individuals with separate problems; sick, hungry, penniless, lost. Separated from husbands, wives, children, relatives, friends. Listening for news of them at the loudspeakers that blare all day through the camps. And in the middle of this chaos, a few UNRRA workers trying to bring some order and comfort. This is followed by the voice-over of Valerie Paling, the camp director. This voice-over emerges from the disorder and deliberately shifts the viewer from the confusion indicated in the images of warfare and the effect that the war has had on the people who enter the camp to a more unified experience, the beginning of a Personalist program. First Valerie describes the chaos in personal terms. My God what a confusion! Hundreds coming in everyday. I suppose most of them will go home soon but so many of them have no homes anymore, no countries even. They need somewhere to live, food clothing … oh go away little man. I know you’ve got to share a room with other people. So does everyone else until we get organised. You’re not the only one. No, you’ll have to put up with it. Lord, what a job. And the army says we must stamp out the black market. How? Everything is black market. The people must eat, they’re hungry and if we can’t provide for them they’ll provide for themselves. Then there is a shift in tone. But they’ll help each other. They’ve put up with worse than this in the last few years. Now the war is over and at least they’re alive. Some of them seem to be getting organised. The industrious ones are finding jobs for themselves. Even if it’s just making pots and pans out of old tin cans. Anything to get a little money to make a new beginning. It’s extraordinary. Some of them seem to be able to shake off the past and start to go forward again. They’ll sort themselves out. The simple and the clever, the good and the bad. They’ll start to live again, those that are left. The parallel with Mounier’s shift from confusion to community based on personal love is quite striking. The voice-over begins with a description of post-war Europe but shifts the emphasis to a kind of Personalist rebuilding of people’s lives in the historical trajectory embraced by Mounier
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and Bazin. Historical events, for Mounier, were ‘a convergence of natural forces and personal activity’. People were in a localized time and space, in ‘a unique set of circumstances’. Yet people were free because they were given ‘response-ability’ for their own destinies’ (Staiger 1984: 101). This historical Personalist emphasis echoes through the Valerie Paling character’s use of phrases such as ‘But they’ll help each other. They’ve put up with worse than this in the last few years. Now the war is over and at least they’re alive. Some of them seem to be getting organised.’ These ideas can be considered in the structure of Mike and Stefani in relation to Bazin’s placing the onus on the spectator in what he termed ‘revolutionary humanism’. Formally, Mike and Stefani is episodic, elliptical, diverse, fragmented and varied in image tone. The film employs a structure of fourteen episodes or chapters most of which end in fades, mostly to black. In most cases, they mark a temporal and spatial shift in the narrative. After the Prologue the film proceeds with the fourteen episodes described in this table. No. Opening Image
1 Sun-filled Alpine landscape. Mike and Stefani’s Honeymoon. Fade to black. 2 Title ‘Christmas 1938’. Stefani’s parents home. Fade to black. 3 Title ‘Late Summer 1939’. Scenes with Roman and the onset of war. Fade to black and military drum beat. 4 Explosion on battlefield. Newsreel images, Ladu off with Partisans, Fade as door closes. ‘the orders to go to Germany’ for M&S. 5 Fade into people being Train in landscape, prison camps, Mike Fade to black. loaded onto train. taken away. 6 Stefani leaving the camp. Stefani’s escape, German in car, market Direct cut. scene. 7 Newsreel footage of ticket Newsreel footage of destruction and DPs, Fade to black. tape parade and marching Stefani’s arrival at DP camp. Soviet soldiers. 8 Paperwork. Processing of DPs, Valerie Paling character Fade to black. and scene in church. 9 DP exercise yard. DP camp life, Mike and Ladu’s arrival. Fade to black. 10 Title: ‘During the next 2½ Mike and Ladu working, Stefani learning Fade to black. years…’. English. 11 Title: ‘Christmas 1949’. Christmas meal in DP camp. Fade to black. 12 Image of DP camp speaker Processing of the Svensky family and Mike, Fade on person announcing camps to be Stefani, Ladu and Ginga. waving. closed. 13 Fade into ‘Resettlement Selection interview with Australian consul. Fade on approval. Center’ sign. 14 Fade into ship’s steam whistle Images of journey to Australia. The End. blowing.
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For example, in the third episode, after a fade to black, we see the intertitle ‘Late Summer 1939’ and Mike’s voice-over begins ‘Next year we were again with old Roman but there was much difference. The newspapers said everything about war and it would come very soon’. This is the episode where Mike and Stefani first hear of the impending war on a radio broadcast and they decide to cut their holiday short. It concludes with Mike saying, over an emerging military-style drum beat, ‘It was the last time we saw old Roman.’ The film then fades to black. Another example of this structure occurs in the eleventh episode beginning with the intertitle ‘Christmas 1949’ when we witness the preparations for the Christmas dinner in the DP camp. After the meal during which the group are served a customary ‘twelve dishes for twelve disciples of our Lord’, Stefani is imaged alone at a table looking at a plate with an up-turned glass on it when she narrates ‘and one plate for the friends who will not come again’. The film then again fades to black. Across the episodes the various journeys taken by the protagonists are alluded to rather than represented. Ladu’s journey from prewar Europe to the DP camp is elided. Amidst the newsreel footage of warfare and displaced people trudging along roads and bridges we see him board a small boat at night-time and we learn nothing of his ventures except from Stefani’s narration ‘And Ladu went with the Partisans. He is too young for this danger’. Stefani’s journey across the Alps is omitted. We witness her setting out at night from the camp and there is an ellipsis until she is picked up by the German motorist. Mike’s experiences at the labour camp are not mentioned or imaged while Valerie Paling’s voice-over tells us ‘he was ill in Hamburg, terribly ill and his young brother found him and they came here together’. These omissions from the sub-plots constitute the same episodic, elliptical style that Bazin identifies in Rossellini’s Paisà. The film incorporates location docu-drama shots, exterior location shots, comparatively stylized interior shots and found footage. Like Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and Paisà, there is a distinct lack of formal unity between the interior shots which are artificially lit, and the exterior ones which, probably due to the limited shooting conditions, vary greatly in tone. Other exterior shots are comprised of the newsreel footage Williams presumably found in Berlin and Paris. Some sequences are much darker than others utilizing a variety of natural light and, due to the employment of found newsreel footage, tonal quality varies. Yet these inconsistencies can be read thematically. The film incorporates the majority of the newsreel footage into one episode. This begins with the image of an explosion which is followed by images of displaced people travelling along roads, and clambering over collapsed bridges, images darkening as we are plunged into a Europe of shadows, imperceptibility and above all, uncertainty. The two darkest sequences in the film occur when Mike and the other men are taken, at night, from the Austrian labour camp in the early hours of the morning and when Stefani, again at night, escapes with Ginga to cross the Alps into Germany. Regardless of the limits imposed by the equipment, these sequences are also the ‘darkest’ in narrative terms in that the first is when Mike is taken off into uncertainty and the second, the complete separation of the protagonists. The second, Stefani’s escape, is also about uncertainty, heading off to cross the snow covered Alps with an infant child back to the country where her problems began. Both sequences are the beginnings of ‘passion’ – like journeys into the dark night of the human spirit.
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The scenes of the film set in the displaced persons camps are also without the variation of shot scale and camera position, editing or composition apparent in the early parts of the middle section of the film. The majority of the shots in these scenes are point of view shots giving the impression that the spectator is being invited to participate in Stefani’s confusion upon her arrival in the camp. One variation to this comparative cohesion of shot scale occurs immediately after Stefani’s arrival at the DP camp; Ginga is taken to the hospital and Stefani is given her room. When she enters the room the medium shot of her sitting on the bed cuts to a medium shot then to a longer shot taken from overhead, denoting isolation and uncertainty, echoing the earlier narrated description of what has happened to Europe and its displaced people. Death and destruction, confusion and loneliness, fear and despair. People dispersed, scattered, separated, sent away to labour camps or left behind in desolation, uncertainty and fear. The variation of shot scale combined with this narration indicates a bringing together of Rossellini’s aims and the Personalist project. Williams’s style is more than the observed reality that Leenhardt advocated and is closer to Rossellini’s claim of ‘ideas born in the film from the subject’ and his ‘seeking out the most subtle aspects of the soul’ – that is, of using film expressively. Despite the confusion, which is the initial condition depicted in the film, Mike and Stefani employs opening and closing sequences which establish a certain formal coherence. While most of the film contains dark images, the grander opening shots of Mike and Stefani’s honeymoon and the ensuing years are bathed in bright natural light, as is the closing sequence on the ship sailing to Australia. These images are, in the first case, idyllic images of a childlike naiveté, of a peaceful Europe connoting a sense of unity and peace that was supposedly familiar to the protagonists. It is also possible to understand the conjoining of the peaceful larger Europe and of Mike and Stefani’s union, celebrated in the sequence of light-flooded images when the protagonists are on their honeymoon, in terms such as harmony and unity. In the second case, the concluding shots of the film, of Mike, Stefani, Ginga and Ladu on their way to Australia, have a double edge to them. While these may be hopeful images of a family setting out on another journey away from the confusion of war’s aftermath they are also images of unease given the blissful sense of unity apparent in the early scenes, the circumstances portrayed in the film and the aftertaste of the rigorous selection interview. There is an element of false hope in the shots of the family travelling to Australia to escape the nightmare of Europe. The sense of loss, displacement, cultural alienation and further journeying implies another level of meaning onto the sense of optimism associated with the way the film emerges from the darkness. Part of the reason for this is the manner in which the film has reflected upon contemporary events in the light of past ones. An example of this occurs in the earlier episode where Mike and Stefani are on their second holiday and Mike narrates that ‘old Roman remembers many years of war in other times. He remembers the young men going with the smiles and how few came back. And now again the same story’. Another example
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is the two intertitles that introduce very different celebrations. ‘Christmas 1938’ begins the episode where we are introduced to Mike’s extended family in the comfortable middle-class home while ‘Christmas 1949’ is a sombre struggle which ends with the image of Stefani alone staring at the empty plate for the ‘friends who will not come’. This repetition of events belies simple constructions of peace and harmony and suggests a world haunted by war and not nearly so secure as it seems on the surface. The ongoing journeying with which the film concludes broadens the schema of the film, opening their story out as one instance of the larger European diaspora positing their journeying in terms of an ultimate hope that not only drives the narrative further but, more specifically, drives Mike and Stefani. These final scenes obtain not so much a belief in or hope for the future but more a sense of eternal hope or Belief. This is why the film can’t guarantee any promises about Australia. Stefani is told that she may be separated again from Mike when they reach their destination so their trials may continue. Yet it is the idea of an ongoing journey and a belief in forces that are larger than they are that constitutes their grace, their faith. One way to further explore these ideas is to invoke what some may understand as an antithesis of neo-realism: melodrama. Bazin wants to draw attention to the realism of Rossellini’s cinema, down-playing any components of the filmic process which would distract the spectator from what Bazin sees as the strong connection between the social world and its representation. In doing so Bazin indicates some awareness of the particular kind of melodrama present in Rossellini’s work. Unfortunately the demon of melodrama that Italian film makers seem incapable of exorcising takes over every so often, thus imposing a dramatic necessity on strictly foreseeable events. But that is another story. (Bazin 1972: 31) The ‘demon’ that Bazin is probably referring to is related to the melodrama of Italian opera that was transmitted in early Italian films featuring stars who called themselves ‘divas’ barely able to contain the emotions welling up inside them. For Bazin, melodrama seems anathema to the aestheticization of reality. Yet in Mike and Stefani, the presence of melodrama can be understood to have much in common with the reason for Bazin’s celebration of neo-realism in particular and more generally his Personalist approach to realism. One way to gesture towards the relationship between melodrama and Personalism is to more closely address the influence on Bazin of one of the key figures in 1940s French intellectual life, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard was a geologist and paleontologist who held, Andrew writes, in quasi-melodramatic terminology, a ‘mystical view of life [that] transformed the daily drudgery of his actual scientific labor’ (Andrew 1990: 66). Andrew then quotes Teilhard’s The Divine Milieu, Throughout my whole life, during every moment I have lived, the world has gradually been taking on light and fire for me, until it has come to envelop me in one mass of
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luminosity glowing from within.… The purple flush of matter fading imperceptibly into the gold of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe. (Andrew 1990: 66) Andrew understands Teilhard’s influence on Bazin lying in his attempts to wed the study of the natural world, at a general level, with that of Personalism all couched in Teilhard’s grandiloquent prose. Bazin was able to employ these ideas in his understanding of realism. Teilhard put Mounier’s ‘personalism’ into the most infinite of contexts. He gave meaning to social and cultural revolution, to a search for a communion of spirit and body based on the messages inscribed in the earth itself. Cinema, for Bazin, was a new tool for observing and deciphering such messages and for uniting the millions of bits of consciousness, which we call an audience, in the contemplation of the truths of nature. It was already a means for personalizing the universe. (Andrew 1990: 66–67) At one level the ideas of Personalism as espoused by Mounier and Teilhard are not unlike the concerns of melodrama in that they called for less of a rational and cognitive approach to the problems of prewar and wartime Europe than for a spiritual and emotional one, in relation to the world as it exists. While Mike and Stefani has been discussed generally in relation to the kinds of rational and information modes of documentary, its appeal to feeling through the use of emotional music, its plot and its narrative all contribute to a sense of melodrama much of which is also apparent in Rossellini’s neo-realist films. Thomas Elsaesser provides a ‘dictionary definition’ of melodrama as ‘a dramatic narrative in which musical accompaniment marks the emotional effects’ (Elsaeeser 1985: 172). Elsaesser goes on to stress how music ‘punctuates’ and is employed to ‘dramatize a given narrative’ (Elsaesser 1985: 172). However, in Rossellini’s work and in Mike and Stefani the melos of the narrative is less punctuated than set up by and underpinned by the presence of romantic symphonic music over the opening titles. The music serves to introduce the drama that is to follow and to designate the film as something larger than both documentary and the everyday that Bazin, following Leenhardt, wants to see as characteristic of neo-realism. In the interview with Pike and Fitzpatrick, Williams discusses the relationship between music and film. Williams, like Cecil Homes, traces his interest in cinema back to two films. In Williams’ case it was a Vitaphone short of Giovanni Martinelli singing the ‘Vesti la giubba’ to Ruggero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci (1926) and Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer (1927). Williams’ first experience of sound in the cinema appears to be primarily an experience of music not dialogue. A student at London’s Academy of Music, Williams was asked by a journalist friend to accompany him to the screening to assist with some of the factual information about the music. This led him to being asked to give opinions on what he terms in the interview ‘musical films’. Later he became involved with the piano accompaniment of silent films telling Pike and
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Fitzpatrick how he progressed from turning the pages on the musical scores to actually playing the piano. In the 1930s he attended the Conservatorium in Sydney before becoming ‘an assistant, particularly concerned with music, to Frank Coffey who was then editor for Chauvel working at that time on Uncivilised’. In Projecting Australia, Albert Moran refers to ‘a lyrical observational style’ that was apparent in some films made by the Australian Government’s Film Division. In this group he includes Williams’ Music Camp (1949), a documentary about an annual camp held at Point Lonsdale near Melbourne. The soundtrack downplays a traditional voice-over commentary in favour of a largely musical soundtrack. The lyrical quality is foregrounded in the opening images of children appearing on the beach accompanied by staccato flutes on the soundtrack. To follow this sound/image arrangement the narrator says ‘By the swing of the sea/In the summer of the year. We came to make music’, Instead of a commentary there is music, a good deal of it, in this one-reel film. Music at once excuses the more lyrical observational style of the film; it also serves as the film’s principal means of progressing from one segment to the next, as music at some points comes from an on-screen source, while at others, appears only to come on the soundtrack. (Moran 1991: 48–49) Mike and Stefani relies on the soundtrack for much of its emotion. The theme music of the film emerges in various strengths corresponding with the tone appropriate to the scene it accompanies. The sun-filled opening and closing sequences again provide examples. The opening of the film employs the theme music over grand shots of mountainous country with Mike and Stefani strolling through an idyllic landscape. The music serves to emphasize the ‘harmony’ and ‘grandeur’ of these scenes. The closing shots of Mike, Stefani and Ladu on the ship sailing to Australia are accompanied by a return to a fuller rendering of the theme which has been heard sporadically during the film. Apart from the theme music, the film employs a feminine chorus to punctuate several scenes. When Mike is taken away from the prison camp and Stefani watches through the gates, we hear a chorus of women’s voices increase in volume and pitch as the dramatic tension increases. Robert Hughes’s score for Mike and Stefani is similar to scores composed by Renzo Rossellini for his brother’s films (in particular Stromboli). Hughes’s score has the same romantic soaring strings and motifs. Yet it is also possible to tie the film’s music back to the social conditions which gave rise to the film’s production. Maslyn Williams explains:
I joined in a lot of the social activities in the refugee camps. In those days I was not a bad singer myself and enjoyed singing and had a fairly good knowledge of liturgical music and so on. And going to these parties at the priest’s house and singing and so forth and going to these three hour long Russian Orthodox masses and things, [I] became familiar with a lot of the music of that area and discovered one of the songs I like best was written by a well known Russian folk composer Bashinsky, who turned out to be an
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uncle of Stefani’s – and so it was a very nostalgic song about longing for my homeland. Your heart being pulled out right from the bottom of your boots, and Stefani used to cry every time anybody sang this thing, so I said ‘well this is our song’, you know, so I took it down, wrote it down in transcript and used it. (Interview Pike and Fitzpatrick) That is, he dictated a key element of Hughes’s score. The musical motif that Williams is referring to works, like the principal narration, to underpin disparate visual and spoken elements in the film, functioning as a cohesive formal device. In this way the music acts like bookends and, in Williams’ own words, connotes the irretrievable ‘longing for my homeland’, and concomitant values of family, religion and community as well as opening out the final images onto the possibility of this story being remade over again just as the sun-filled images that begin and close the film remake the hope for peace. The strains of the film’s musical motif begins with the opening title and the Foreword. This story covers events in the lives of Mycola and Stefani S. … The same kind of story could be told of hundreds of thousands of other people whose lives were twisted into a pattern of suffering and confusion by the violence of war, and who have become known to the world as the displaced persons of Europe. Their story begins in the late summer of 1938. The Foreword fades to black then reveals the image of an apparently innocent Europe. Mike and Stefani are seen walking hand in hand in picturesque, idyllic mountains. These idyllic shots are accompanied by innocent bell-like piano sounds. The sequence of Mike, Stefani, Ginga and Ladu on the ship heading to Australia that closes the film, combined with the musical motif which was so effusive in the Foreword, recall the sense of departure, of storytelling, apparent in those opening lines. Peter Brooks argues that music in melodrama elevates correlations with the real world to another level. In writing about the structuring of language in the novel which is, obviously, without music, Brooks says some things which seem pertinent to cinema. Even though the novel has no literal music, this connotation of the term melodrama remains relevant. The emotional drama needs the desemanticized language of music, its evocation of the ‘ineffable,’ its tones and registers. Style, thematic structuring, modulations of tone and rhythm and voice-musical patterning in a metaphoric sense – are all called upon to invest plot with some of the inexorability and necessity that in pre-modern literature derived from the substratum of myth. (Brooks 1976: 14) The plainly neo-realist mise-en-scène of Mike and Stefani is, by the ‘desemanticized language’ of music, elevated from a simple record of events into a more emotional tale of war, separation, loss and family. The score infuses the gritty documentary-like images with these more abstract, more ‘elevated’ qualities. With music the footage of displaced people trudging down roads and crossing bombed bridges is given over to a spectacle that positions its images as universal and
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epic. This use of music imparts another kind of ‘life’ to them. In an early essay to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the death of fellow Esprit writer Maurice Jaubert, Bazin emphasized Jaubert’s ability to synthesize the arts of music and cinema. For Bazin, Jaubert’s ‘personal qualities’ are ‘inseparable’ from his work. He quotes Jaubert, whose words echo Mounier’s, We demand … a popular music, and contrary to appearances that does not mean we are looking for the easy way. The real difficulty – and real courage as well – does not consist in hiding behind the mysteries of theory, but in rediscovering music in its most naked form so as to work at restoring to it the sense of human, and if possible, collective song. (Bazin 1981: 110–111) Mike and Stefani’s episodic and elliptical narrative condenses events and concentrates those ‘emotional ups and downs’ that Elsaesser recognizes as characteristic of the Hollywood version of melodrama (Elsaesser 1985: 172). Its story of lovers separated by war is almost quintessential melodrama, designed to bring tears to the viewer’s eyes. However, Mike and Stefani also features three major scenes the melodrama of which is derived from the combination of music with episodic and elliptical qualities in a film representing vast journeys and personal experiences. The first of these scenes occurs when the protagonists, seated in their house, hear a knock on their door which Mike opens to a sinister looking Nazi figure bearing orders to take them away to Germany. The Nazi is imaged in the door’s shadow with the sunlight on the street emphasizing the approaching darkness. With the knock comes a sound of strong, deep pulsing strings which becomes the chorister’s wail. In a lull in the wailing comes Stefani’s narration ‘It is the orders. We must go to Germany’, then the choristers reach full volume as the door closes on a fade into the shot of a train being loaded with prisoners. The second melodramatic scene occurs when Mike is taken from the Austrian labour camp with the rest of the men. After Stefani has cried out what is presumably a pet-name for Mike, the choristers wail begins with a shot of the truck leaving the compound as the gates shut behind it. The film then cuts to a medium shot of Stefani in the centre of one of the crosses formed by the gate. The wail increases with this shot and is held until the scene is closed off with a rapid fade to black giving it a sense of cruelty not achieved in the other two melodramatic scenes. The most excessive moment of melos in the film is when Mike and Stefani are reunited in the displaced persons camp. The initial shot is taken at a high angle of Stefani alone in her room as Mike walks into frame. At the moment of his entrance the strings flourish in a manner which is a marked departure from the rest of the film’s music. In evoking musical strains reminiscent of neo-realist film scores and employing a close-up of Stefani’s face, the reunion is the key melodramatic moment in the film, a moment to which the title refers and in which we are to sense the ineffable significance of the events which have preceded it. Yet this excessive and climactic moment is fleeting because it is undercut by the entry of Mike’s younger brother Ladu into the room. In cutting from the close-up of Mike and Stefani to a medium shot of Ladu entering the room then to a shot of Mike, Stefani and Ladu all in one frame, Mike and Stefani’s embrace is diffused out onto the wider realms of family and war. This gesturing out onto the world is
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confirmed with the shot of Ladu entering the room when we hear the film’s musical motif begin to emerge and become clearer with a shot of Mike sitting on the bed looking at his daughter Ginga asleep. The musical motif then emerges in its full clarity with the choristers and orchestra when the following intertitle appears. During the next 2½ years more than 7 million war refugees returned to their own countries or emigrated. But half a million homeless people like Mike and Stefani continued to live in DP camps in Europe under the care of the International Refugee Organisation (IRO). Thus the most melodramatic moment of the film is also its most didactic and perhaps also one of its most ‘Personalist’. In this instance Mike and Stefani’s story is opened up to be about all the displaced persons, ‘the new race’ as the narrator calls them, echoing the Personalism of Mounier and Bazin’s ‘revolutionary humanism’. To extend these ideas it is useful to look at what Andrew is addressing when he writes, Bazin loved neorealist films not because of what they told him of cinema, but because of what they told him of reality. His penchant for films with as little abstraction as possible derived from his desire to see images of reality itself flash on the screen. Bazin was the kind of viewer to notice and enjoy unforeseen details of nature in even the most contrived and convention-filled Western. In neorealism he found a movement dedicated in both its photography and its dramaturgy precisely to the unforeseen (Andrew 1990: 113). Mike and Stefani, like many neo-realist films, at one level, is about the foreseen. Yet at another micro-level, the events that occur in the film are unforeseen. There is an overarching understanding on the spectator’s part that the war will come and change these people’s lives irrevocably, yet we do not know what these changes will mean. In fact we can never know what these changes mean except at a narrative level; and that is what we do see in the film. This is due to the elliptical nature of the narrative. There is also little sense that we ‘know’ the characters. Echoing Watt and Heyer, they are more character types and, as we have seen, we also don’t know much of their journeys apart from the glimpses of departures we witness. Mike, Stefani, Ginga and Ladu are caught up in a world that is ‘unforeseen’ in that they do not know where they are headed. Mike and Stefani and the others experience the suffering of catastrophic events as if they are understandable in the world of the confusion and fragmentation more so than that of the spectator. The use of melodrama within this schema is an attempt to ‘make large’ these events for the spectator. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith writes about ‘melodrama as a bourgeois form’ tracing, as Brooks does, its origins back to the eighteenth century delineating its emergence in relation to tragedy (NowellSmith 1985: 191). For Nowell-Smith one of the principle differences between melodrama and tragedy concerns the mode of address. He asserts that the emergence of the novel meant a shift away from tales of kings and princes written by ‘a less exalted social stratum’ to a position where ‘author, audience and subject matter are put on a place of equality’ (Nowell-Smith 1985:
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191). Mike and Stefani provides a different spin on these relations but a comparison is useful. In this case the characters are powerless due to forces beyond their control. Like the protagonists in most Italian neo-realist films, Mike and Stefani are caught up in, or are seen in relation to, events much larger than themselves. The film laments the fragmentation and ‘confusion’ that has shattered the lineages of nationality, family, culture and, importantly, religion. In the interview with Pike and Fitzpatrick, Williams, discussing the film’s pre-production, alludes to the kind of address found in melodrama. The obvious locations were the home environment of the people concerned, what was their background. This was the first thing importantly for the Australians to know. That these people weren’t scum from jails or labour camps, they were people like themselves who come from the same kind of social background and had the same hopes and ambitions for themselves and their children. The film goes to great lengths to present us with innocent middle-class characters most notably in the scene in a comfortable home after the intertitle ‘Christmas 1938’ where Mike’s narration introduces us to his family. Stefani’s mother, always so kind. Stefani’s sister Maria. Grandfather, an engineer like me, always so patient to answer each question of Maria’s son. Stefani’s father, a lawyer and Maria’s husband. And with us too, my younger brother Ladu who came to stay with us for his school years. Pike and Cooper claim that the film’s purpose was propaganda ‘to counter criticism within Australia that immigration selection procedures for displaced persons were inadequate and that “undesirables” were slipping through the net, and to encourage Australians to accept the sudden influx of nonBritish immigrants in the immediate post-war years’ (Pike and Cooper 1980: 278). Later in the same interview, Williams says that he made the film as a critique of Australian immigration selection procedures. In either case, the film is designed to address middle-class audiences by showing that Mike, Stefani and the others share that class background and its aspirations. The melodrama and its message are, again, united. But the film also addresses middle-class concerns by couching its message in melodrama – and not in the personal world view common to most melodrama – where causation tends to be immediate and larger problems of political or economic power are displaced onto the personal, immediate effects of the specific exercise of that power. In Mike and Stefani the issue is not who caused the war but the personal affect of the war. In its role as a propaganda piece Mike and Stefani was designed for and speaks to middle-class Australians to ask ‘would you want to be treated this way?’ This interpellation is another source of melodrama. Nowell-Smith’s formula for melodrama and tragedy is useful here. Notably, the question of law or legitimacy, so central to tragedy, is turned inward from ‘Has this man a right to rule (over us)?’ to ‘Has this man a right to rule a family (like ours)?’ This inward-turning motivates a more directly psychological reading of situations, particularly in the Hollywood melodrama. (Nowell-Smith 1985: 192)
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In Mike and Stefani, this formula is more complicated. In Williams’ film the agonizing selection interview brings the issue of address to a point. In a selection interview the Australian Consul Mr Grant, with the aid of a translator, laboriously asks Mike and Stefani question after question about Mike’s Diploma in Civil Engineering, his language skills and about black market and police convictions. Stefani is asked similar questions. The interview is not only mechanistic and detached but a frustrating filmic experience. The point about the interview, in relation to Williams’ claims that the film was made to satisfy concerns that immigration procedures were inadequate and that the film was made as a critique of these procedures, is that the scene can be read in both these ways. First, we could understand the official to be merely performing his duty and the mechanistic tone of voice and procedural nature of the whole process lends itself to this reading, one that the Department of Immigration would have approved of. Second, we could read the scene with Williams’s intentions in mind, as criticism. This reading relies on taking into account the whole film and the things that have occurred in the lives of the protagonists. If we accept Williams’s second assertion, using NowellSmith’s formula, the ‘turning inward’ is from ‘Should this family be treated in this way?’ to ‘Is this family (are these people) so different from yours (you) that they should be treated in this way?’ These moral questions are what motivate Mike and Stefani but we need to understand these questions in the light of the particular morality of post-war Catholicism. Rossellini speaking about the autobiographical element in his films, in particular Europa ‘51 (1951), provides some indication of the Catholic morality evident in Mike and Stefani. I believe that what saved us from the disasters of the war, and other equally terrible scourges, was this view of life we have, which is unmistakably Catholic. Christianity does not pretend that everything is good and perfect; it recognises sin and error, but it also admits the possibility of salvation. It is the other side who only allow man to be perfectly consistent and infallible. To me that is monstrous and nonsensical. The only possibility I see for getting nearer to the truth, is to try to understand sin and be tolerant of it. (Rossellini 1981a: 73) In writing about melodrama, the existence of morality for Peter Brooks is a structural position. He understands the melodramatic world to be based on a division between good and evil. Melodrama is indeed, typically, not only a moralistic drama but the drama of morality: it strives to find, to articulate, to demonstrate, to ‘prove’ the existence of a moral universe which, though put into question, masked by villainy and perversions of judgement, does exist and can be made to assert its presence and its categorical force among men. (Brooks 1976: 20) Rossellini also understands the world to be structured in this way. This is not to say that there are only good and bad people but that the forces which are at work on peoples’ lives are good forces and bad forces or more precisely, that we can understand forces that are at large
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in the world in terms of good and evil. In Mike and Stefani, like Rossellini’s early films, the elliptical quality of the events and the employment of character types means there is a level of indeterminacy of the divisions between good and evil in the diegesis. This indeterminacy invites the kind of Personalist response that Bazin foregrounded in his ‘revolutionary humanism’. We, as spectators, rely on traditional structural principles to understand the world in terms of good and evil. Mike and Stefani inhabit this kind of world and their journeying, as a result of forces beyond their control, necessitates an understanding of them as good people because they are ‘forced’ into the existence they have by war, and Nazis, evil forces. In this way Mike and Stefani are not inherently good people; they are inherently innocent people which structurally positions them on the side of good. In this schema the selection interview adds to this structural positioning because their role as innocents is continued after the war in their status as displaced people. In this manner the immigration officials act badly because they now embody the forces to which the displaced people are still subject. Mike and Stefani can be understood in terms of the kind of structuring principles that Brooks identifies in melodrama and the manner in which Rossellini suggests his films can be read. Although Bazin denies the existence of the ‘demon of melodrama’, Mike and Stefani sits neatly both within both the traditions of melodrama and Bazin’s theory of neo-realism, that of ‘revolutionary humanism’. One question that the film poses, in what now appears as a critique of immigration procedures, is ‘how can they (we) treat this family in this way after all they have been through?’ Although this question is one way to comprehend the film in terms of its propaganda intentions, to confine its meaning to this question simplifies the film’s aim and fails to take into account the post-war Catholic world view that the film articulates. We have seen Mike and Stefani (and the other displaced people) being treated badly throughout the film. The film is mostly about suffering and (eventual but inevitable) redemption. Suffering occurs at the hands of others. Redemption is achieved through grace. Mike and Stefani, like Bicycle Thieves, does not attempt to illustrate redemption. It merely invokes the possibility of eventual redemption in the brightness of its final scenes and in the metaphor of the journey of suffering. Suffering, on the other hand, is unceasing in the world Mike and Stefani depicts – the world created by war (evil). Thus even the Australian government has a role to play in inflicting suffering on protagonists who can only be redeemed by grace, not by governments and not even by faith or innocence. The passage of the protagonists Mike, Stefani, Ladu and Ginga therefore, through the world of sin and error is a spiritual journey. Despite complete innocence they are treated like criminals not only by the Nazis, but unwittingly by the IRO and lastly by the Australian immigration authorities. On the one hand, in a dialectical framework the treatment of the family, and by implication all displaced people, is the darkness of the film. There is a conflation, to some degree, of all the ‘authorities’ who perpetuate the loss of innocence and the confusion to which the DPs are subjected. On the other hand it is the innocence of a prewar Europe upon which the sun shines as it does on the protagonists as they emerge from the darkness of Europe on the ship headed for Australia. The selection interview is all about clarification. Mike, Stefani, Ladu and Ginga emerge from the confusion of post-war Europe, they are to be ‘processed’ before they can be allowed to emigrate to Australia and their suitability as potential citizens is rigorously attended to. However
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the representation of this process in the film is in real time, in contrast to the elliptical quality of the rest of the film. The emotional effect is shifted from one of pity and empathy for the displaced people ‘like’ Mike and Stefani to a frustration with the further hindrance to their safe passage out of the confusion. However Mike’s response to the question of why he wants to go to Australia complicates the idealized agenda of emigration to Australia. I want, at least, [to be] free to live. Millions of our people from my country are sent to far Siberia. From Ukraine, from Poland, from Lithuania, from Latvia. We can no more stay in our country by this government, by this regime. We cannot follow for our God. We have no church for us. Nothing we have. The criticism of government immigration selection procedures occurs at an emotional, spiritual and ultimately Personalist level. Earlier in the film we are invited to empathize with the family but the shift here may also be to a frustration with not only the selection process but with its representation. The lack of melos only exacerbates the drama, the flatness of the sequence, which in turn elevates the epic quality of the newsreel footage and the climactic events which have preceded it. But the sequence also indicates something of what the film is getting at within the tenets of Personalism: the immediate personal experience that is, at the same time, an experience of individual transcendence, an experience of humanity and human kinship – the everyday transformed. It is the relationship between the interview and the preceding struggles which obtains a tangential kind of melodramatic mode. The flattening out of devices such as close-ups and extra-diegetic music as well as the elliptical narrative, compresses the melos of the narrative into a containment of emotion which is the strongest expression of spirituality in the film, recalling Andrew’s assertion that ‘Rossellini preaches personal revolution through self-effacement’ (Andrew 1990: 33) which can be an articulation of grace. Rossellini’s idea that ‘Christianity recognises sin and error’ is articulated through the interview sequence souring the emigration to Australia; the lack of recourse to a succinct utopian closure to the film folds the closing sun-bathed images back onto the rest of the film rendering them an ironic reflection of the film’s opening sequence. The ending of Mike and Stefani, like Stromboli, is ultimately, concerned with the present of the film (filmic time) as it informs a projection into the future. In Mike and Stefani, the events that the protagonists encounter construct persons whose plight we are asked to consider. Australia is a location that is positioned retrospectively in relation to these events and the individuals who are formed, partly, through them. At one level we are asked to consider, recalling Nowell-Smith, whether these people should come to Australia. At another level, we are invited to consider their plight not just in terms of events, of the terrible things that have wrecked their lives, but to understand the present world that these people have had to endure in a temporal way; that is, we must understand these events not in relation to a classical narrative model but a model of continuity. Australia isn’t posited so much as an answer to the problems they have endured but as a future episodic line that is attached to the film. A comparison with Karen’s journey towards the end of Stromboli may be useful here. Karen, a manipulative and self-serving person hardened by the circumstances of war, feels trapped and, with the help of the man from the lighthouse, sets out to climb past the active
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volcano to the other side of the island. Her actions in stealing the money her husband Antonio has been saving to make her happy and in leaving the village have made it difficult for her to return. Outcast and exhausted, she loses the money and her suitcase. The volcano fills the air with heat, ash and poisonous gas. Pregnant, with little hope for the future she is unable to walk past the explosive volcano. She breaks down, crying herself to sleep. When Karen wakes in the morning she seems spiritually renewed. Renzo Rossellini’s flute-like music adds to this sense of awakening. She places her hands over her womb saying ‘Oh God, what mystery, what beauty’ before beginning to walk. The film then cuts to her view of the village from which she has run away and she collapses saying ‘No, I can’t go back. They are horrible, it was all horrible. They don’t know what they do. I’m even worse. I’ll save him’. She then holds her womb again and says ‘My innocent child. God, my God help me. God, my God, give me the strength, the understanding and the courage. Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, merciful God’. The final shot of the film is of seabirds wheeling above the island. Mike and Stefani on their voyage to Australia, like Karen at the end of her film, have begun a journey as much as they have completed one. The episodic, elliptical and partial nature of these narratives diminishes the singular significance of their earlier journey because the earlier one precedes the journey that the diegetic events have set in train. Like Karen, Mike and Stefani must face events that are, following Bazin, ‘unforeseen’. At the end of both films the protagonists are setting out on journeys in the hope of redemption with the only surety being their belief in God. In an interview with Rossellini, Adriano Aprà and Maurizio Ponzi ask the director if Karen is leaving or going back to the village. I don’t know. That would be the beginning of another film. The only hope for Karen is to have a human attitude toward something, at least once.… There is a turning point in every human experience in life – which isn’t the end of the experience or of the man, but a turning point. My finales are turning points. Then it begins again – but as for what it is that begins, I don’t know. (Rossellini 1992: 155–56) One can imagine that if any of his interviewers had asked Williams whether Mike and Stefani would have a happy life or find redemption in Australia, he too would have said ‘I don’t know. That would be the beginning of another film … as for what it is that begins, I don’t know’. Notes 1. My comparison of Mike and Stefani and Stromboli is based on what Peter Brunette calls the ‘Italian’ version of Rossellini’s film, which is 107 minutes long and includes the scenes and ending that the ‘American’ version is said to have omitted. See (Brunette 1996: 127). 2. Andrews delineation of the influence of Personalism on Bazin was preceded in 1974 by John Hess in his ‘La politique des auteurs. Part One: World view as aesthetic’. 3. In her entry on Damien Parer in The Oxford Companion to Australian Film, Ina Bertrand claims that Mike and Stefani employs some of Parer’s war footage (376). 4. Williams has also referred to this dichotomy as it emerged at the National Film Board and subsequent Film Unit in terms of an ‘art form’ stream as against the ‘social political’ stream which he understood to be represented by Producer-in-Chief Stanley Hawes (Moran 1991: 42).
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5 Settler Journeys
Looking back over the history and development of the Australian image on the screen, one thing seems abundantly clear: while the image has certainly been affected by a variety of factors, the two principal forces that have moulded it in the past, and continue to mould it today, are the physical isolation of the island continent from the rest of the world. And the fact that it is easy, cheap and convenient to import almost anything – your food, your dress and your culture. (Heyer 1957: 242) I have indicated in the previous chapters that a common characteristic of all these Australian films is the presence of an interrupted, deflected, never-ending journey. This presence indicates a common thread, another arc through the book. This journeying began with Coldicutt’s travelling for the Spanish Relief Committee and the dissemination of Soviet film theory through Close Up. The Realists also filmed May Day marches as a way of imaging what they understood to be working-class events, ritualized performances of working-classness. The Realist films, ideologically, cannot conclude. The dialectical framework that they employ presupposes an irrevocable division in society upon which their film making and theoretical approach is based.
The funeral march in ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ continues the performative nature of working-class solidarity apparent in the Realist May Day March films and, although the burial of Joe Wilson marks its conclusion, the swaggie continues off down the road. ‘The Load of Wood’ represents a continuation of the swaggie’s wandering, this time in an impossible journey into the past to reclaim the same kind of identity he represented: nomadic, anti-establishment. In ‘The City’ Ted and Kathie board a train to return to their homes and to their search for a place to love and to settle just as the vagrant returns to his daily rituals. As we have seen, John Heyer’s films overtly employ a ceaseless, anecdotal and episodic mode unlike the linearity expressed in the likes of Night Mail and The River. In Mike and Stefani,
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Mike, Stefani, Ladu and Ginga and the other displaced people of Europe undertake a spiritual, Personalist journey that, by definition, can never end. It is in these qualities that it is possible to see a reflection of the purposeless structure of Industrial Britain and The Land and the episodic and elliptical qualities of Italian neo-realist films. All of these films provide a disavowal of linearity and a challenging of common notions of narrative. It seems entirely appropriate for this book to further extend the kind of interrupted, deflected, never-ending journey structure to this chapter. In extending this structure this chapter will address the idea of settlement as the root of the problem of what seems to be a peculiar conceptualization of the way that colonial societies imitate or remake mother or hegemonic discourses. In adapting this form to a final chapter, this book is also resisting the historiographical urge in Australian film history to provide what Moran and O’Regan call, ‘a teleology of [this object of study], an account of linear growth and development’ (Moran and O’Regan 1983: 163) as well deliberately avoiding any sense of a final argument. What follows is a set of suggestive and speculative fragments that inconclusively pursue the idea that the kind of journeying examined may be specifically tied to the ways that Australian white settler culture makes sense of itself. One way of continuing this book is to consider the impetus of settler culture that can be seen in the films discussed. Settlement is all about occupation, of settling a particular place as ‘ours’. That is, the transformation of a geographical space, whether by journeying, fencing, building, mining, in narrating, or filming, can be an act of settlement. This action transforms the setting and in doing so the setting is transformed. An emphasis on action is crucial to this line of thinking. Settler culture is a constant, ongoing struggle to render the landscape, to give the land and the culture meaning: this means that the history of white representation in Australia is a history of failure to make the land meaningful. Most of the films discussed have prominently dealt with journeys.1 In all of them, geographical space has been rendered as in the process of transformation. The various journeys have involved movement but this has always been in the service of defining a space, (in relation to a track, road, river or destination) to make it meaningful. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, attend to this kind of movement using the notion of nomadology. They emphasize a distinction between a ‘nomadic trajectory’ and the ‘sedentary road’ (380). In these related schemas the emphasis for the nomad is on the ‘in-between’, ‘the intermezzo’ and ‘the ambulant’. The sedentary, on the other hand, relies on fixed points striated, ‘by walls, enclosures, and roads between enclosures’ (381). Settlement culture is rather obviously aligned with the sedentary. However, if Australian settler culture can be traced back to the European encounter with the Australian land, then the settler culture’s attempts, (through journeying, painting, photography and cinema), to make the land meaningful, enacted upon (a sedentary ‘settlement’ of the land), seems to work in conjunction with an apparent nomadic tendency. In the films I have been discussing, the land has been intransigent. The films as documents of settler culture belong to the same continuum of reproduction insofar as they display the difficulty
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for imported styles, cultures and world views to represent cultural specificity. The films can be understood as reterritorializing what they ‘settle’ into various ideological positions. One way to read the films I have been discussing is in terms of how this sedentary striating of space places limits and boundaries ‘upon something else’. Although the Realist Film Unit’s films contain no journey, they employ a crude Marxism, rendering Melbourne in terms of a dialectic of working-class slums and upper-class wealth in an attempt to impose a ‘Soviet’ meaning on the problem of housing conditions, articulated as a distinction between two sets of geographic and class spaces. The juxtaposition of classes not only involved imitating or remaking Soviet film styles, it also involved closing off and conceptualizing space as class determined. Three in One also moves from rural to quasi-suburban to urban space. Across these stories ‘The Load of Wood’ is much less ‘settled’, much less identifiable through convention. Holmes’s film also moves from the ‘spirit of the 1890s’ as personified by Henry Lawson, transferring it from ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ to ‘The City’, laying these values out across working-class urban Sydney while mirroring the ‘mateship’ threefold in an attempt to make the contemporary city ‘Australian’. The remaking of the 1890s in the 1930s and the 1950s is a sedentary conceptualization of ‘Australian’. In ‘The Load of Wood’ Darkie and Ernie’s journey to steal wood is also an attempt to give meaning to themselves, their characters, in relation to the Bush which has been settled by Shea (Keith Howard). In this case the journey is a regressive movement in two ways. First, in an attempt to remake themselves in terms of the Australian identity constructed out of the 1890s mythology of the Bush, Darkie and Ernie return to the land. Second, in performing this return the pair mirror the nomad ideal of the Bush worker whose relation to the city is rendered in terms of departure and movement. In ‘The City’, Ted and Kathie’s dilemma is solved due to the maintenance of ‘mateship’ in an urban environment. In striating space (the land) as the origin of identity, Three in One works to hold down historical moments, reading them back in time. The Overlanders, with its distinctive nationalist backdrop, relies on the idea of reterritorializing the wilderness. The journey made by Dan McAlpine’s party is predicated on ‘making’ it from one side of the country to the other, yet there is a sense in this film that the movement must be ongoing to hold down a landscape for all Australians in the service of settlement as process. Still, the likes of McAlpine will journey again and again. Unlike the North-South Road, an example of the idea of striated space, the journey that McAlpine’s party takes invokes a nomadology yet its journey is taken on behalf of the state in an attempt to subdue the land and make it useful. In the same way The Valley is Ours and The Back of Beyond have, as their backbones, in the first case, the Murray River, and, in the second, the track along which Tom Kruse travels. Like McAlpine, Kruse seems very much the nomad. The film consistently images him as a figure both ‘in-between’ sedentary spaces while rendering the land, over and over again as something meaningful for the white settler culture.
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If the nomad can be called the Deterritorialized par excellence, it is precisely because there is no reterritorialization afterward as with the migrant, or upon something else as with the sedentary (the sedentary’s relation with the earth is mediatized by something else, a property regime, a State apparatus). With the nomad, on the contrary, it is deterritorialization that constitutes the relation to the earth, to such a degree that the nomad reterritorializes on deterritorialization itself. It is the earth that deterritorializes itself in a way that provides the nomad with a territory. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 381). If the land will not give itself over to reterritorialization, it cannot be made to mean. The process of journeying, of providing a conduit between the points on the map that opens The Back of Beyond, must keep going, because, like the storytelling, as soon as the journeying ceases so does the sense of the places being made. As Deleuze and Guattari point out, the distinction between nomadic and sedentary space hinges on movement. It is not simply the action of moving that describes the nomad, because, as we have seen, settlement also relies on movement. In making this distinction, Deleuze and Guattari assert, in words that may seem to describe a sedentary, settler culture, that ‘the nomad distributes himself in a smooth space; he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle’ (381). This ‘distribution’ of the nomad is quite different from what Deleuze and Guattari describe as ‘the function of the sedentary road, which is to parcel out a closed space to people, assigning each person a share and regulating the communication between shares’ (380). Kruse acts as a link between the landowners, journeying along a familiar (because it is well travelled) track, responding to its changes at the same time as the film attempts to render it meaningful. It may also be possible to locate in this movement a nomadic tendency in the departures from the track, such as the lost girls sequence, the ‘embroidery’ of story telling that Ross Gibson identifies. The Back of Beyond employs movement from point to point, seeking meaning from the various encounters with the land and the people who inhabit the locale, deterritorializing at the same time as it reterritorializes. It is possible to see a more developed nomadism in the journeys that Mike, Stefani and the others take in Mike and Stefani. These journeys are seen in relation to an ideal of a ‘settled’ Australia that is never realized and a fragmented Europe that is forever left behind. We know that the film is made by the official government documentary production unit ‘for’ Australians. The ‘unforeseen’ (recalling Bazin) is not just further journeys and hardships, it is Australia itself, the film’s reference point, the last (uncertain) point. At the same time this journey is a spiritual one, rendered in an elliptical manner which seeks meaning in the spaces between the episodes, the unrepresentable hardships of wartime experience. Following Deleuze and Guattari, this motif of the ongoing journey indicates the inadequacy that follows the settler culture’s attempts to make something of the landscape. This seems particularly the case in Australian cinema. What is striking about all these films is that there is a sense that, despite their employment of ‘international’ or ‘global’ styles, there remains a gulf between their use of style and the specificities or ‘essentials’ of Australian culture; their ‘Australianness’.
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For some people this has meant that the films look inadequate (meaningless) in local terms. It may also mean that the film-makers have imitated overseas films so well that their films exist internationally, making Australia ‘mean’ something to the rest of the world. Shirley and Adams point out that ‘throughout the 1950s, Australia’s allegiances were gradually transferred from Britain to America – in matters of trade, defence and foreign policy’ (Shirley and Adams 1989: 185). This was accompanied by the ‘introduction of American music, films and television which dominated the market place’ and ‘anything Australian was often considered second rate’ (185). Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka discern ‘shifts in consciousness’ in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when there was an increase in the number of film societies leading to the establishment of the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals in 1953–54. Out of this movement grew a group of lobbyists pushing for the creation of a more stable and credible film industry also marking ‘the shift towards affirming Australianness rather than squirming about it’ (Dermody and Jacka 1987: 29). Sylvia Lawson’s 1965 essay ‘Not for the likes of us’ can be seen as a product of these changes and a part of the ‘lobbying’ to which Dermody and Jacka refer. In this essay Lawson wrote about the state of Australian national cinema in the 1940s and 1950s, and derived from it some pertinent lessons about Australian white settler identity. In Lawson’s words it is possible to see a reflection of the discourse, in Deleuze and Guattari’s schema, that a sedentary or settler culture employs in an attempt to striate space. Cinema is always, inextricably, bound up with its point of origin – perhaps more so than any other form except the novel, and for similar reasons. Both have space to fill; both are committed to a language of detail, to the employment of many relevant trivialities. No film that ever mattered was made by a casual visitor to the country or the city in which his story was set. In all those that have mattered, a certain documentary accuracy about place, in both geographic and social senses, is the groundwork for fiction, often the material of criticism; and the kind of fiction-film Australia probably needs most at the moment is of the vigorous and comparatively simple sort, a decisive holding of the mirror up to aspects of our nature. (Lawson 1965: 31) Lawson’s words, in particular the invocation of the Aristotelian mirror metaphor, the doubled usage of the term ‘nature’ and her insistence on location also provide a point from which to continue an extension of the concerns of the previous chapters. By 1965 it was possible to understand Australian film culture, under the influence of such ‘international’ forces as the French New Wave, as reacting vigorously to what was understood to be the increased influence of Hollywood cinema and the waning of British influence. For my purposes these influences need to be understood in relation to two intertwined issues. First, what seems to be the crux of Lawson’s argument about ‘Australian’ cinema – naturalism – and second, issues of national identity, albeit an identity motivated by the impulse of white settlement – Lawson’s idea of ‘space to be filled’.
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In her use of the phrase ‘unaffected naturalism’, Lawson provides some indication of what is seen to be a characteristic point of departure for much of the critical debate about representing non-Aboriginal Australian experience. For Lawson, naturalism is the ‘holding of the mirror up to aspects of our nature’ in what seems to be a straightforward conflation of form and content in the service of self-representation, an approach which presumes that there is such a thing as an indigenous mode of representation for white Australia to employ. This approach is entirely pertinent to the documentary and docu-drama modes of the films discussed in this book. Yet, all these films draw on quite different models of naturalism – even Mike and Stefani, which might seem closest to a style or genre of docu-drama; neo-realism. The point here is that Lawson’s ‘naturalism’ is by no means any more ‘Australian’ as a concept than any of the other ‘realisms’ which have informed the documentary film-makers examined in this book. Lawson’s prescription is simply a (French) New Wave variant of the Bazinian realism that we have seen operating for Williams (and to some extent Holmes in ‘The City’). All that can happen with the concept of naturalism that she advocates is that Australia can be a realist object. ‘Not for the likes of us’ is a call for government assistance in the regeneration of the Australian Film Industry (154). Lawson mentions The Sentimental Bloke (1919), On Our Selection (1920) and Tal Ordell’s The Kid Stakes (1927) as examples of films that were, […] works of highly skilled yet unaffected naturalism; Longford and Ordell (both, probably strongly influenced by Chaplin) had a clear and loving eye for the looks of their city, its wharves, markets, streets and slum terraces, its ways of lounging on street corners and gossiping at fences. To look at their films now is to find out how it felt to live here forty years ago (and incidentally to realise that the way of looking at urban life that film critics christened ‘neo-realism’ was not invented by Vittorio da Sica). When the people of our 1920s saw them they must have emerged with a freshened sense of where, and who they were. (29) Lawson’s approval of Longford and Ordell’s films is based on the premise that: […] many early Australian films were not worth our nostalgia: they seem to have been mostly naive farce and naive melodrama, home-made versions of well-tried international formulae rather than anything distinctly ours. Similar judgements could be made on filmmaking in most other places. (29) For our purposes, Lawson’s usage of the terms ‘naive’ in relation to ‘international formulae’ complicates the relationship between the strong urge to speak about local productions ‘on their own terms’ and the struggle to find an indigenous language for white settler cultures to speak of their own cultural products. There is also some indication of the historical and cultural specificity of Lawson’s remarks. Her call for industry assistance, based on the importance of images of Australia to the assertion of what has been more recently called ‘Australian national identity’, relies on a rendering of location (in this case urban) indicative of a settler or colonial
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culture. For her it is the ‘settled’ locations that will provide for Australians a ‘sense of where, and who they were’. Part of the problem in discussing essays like Lawson’s is the paucity of culturally specific accounts of the way that Australian white colonial culture ‘works’. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin write that ‘white European settlers in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand faced the problem of establishing their “indigeneity” and distinguishing it from their continuing sense of their European inheritance’ (Ashcroft et al. 1989: 135). The problem for the writers that Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin address, (and I would suggest, for the film-makers) in settler cultures such as these is that the will to indigeneity may be outweighed by the ties to Europe: […] there is a perception that this new experience, if couched in the terms of the old, is somehow ‘falsified’ – rendered inauthentic – at the same time as its value, judged within Old World terms, is considered inferior. (135) Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin describe this position as a ‘site of conflict’ within which settler cultures exist in a tight oscillation between two poles (136). The colonial culture, in seeking a new way of speaking about its new experience, turns to the discourse of the mother country for affirmation. These general problems will be articulated differently for Australia than they will be for New Zealand or Canada. While Lawson’s reference to Chaplin in relation to Longford and Ordell is characteristic of this ‘site of conflict’, the use of the term ‘neo-realism’ indicates much more about Australian settler or sedentary culture. The problem with Lawson’s account is not just with the way that Italian post-war cinema has become a reference point for discussions of locationism and non-actors in feature films but also that this cinema is supposed to have been ‘invented’ by the Italians. Yet Lawson still has to mention de Sica and she is compelled to use the term ‘neo-realism’. The problem with Lawson’s assertions is the existence of the power of a certain discourse of Italian neo-realism – Bazin’s. This sense of entrapment within the ‘site of conflict’ is characteristic of Australian film culture more generally. The desire to construct cultural objects that are ‘unique’ to this country is most often couched in terms of the difference between these objects and those of Australia’s two mother countries, first Britain and later the United States. Lyn Spillman in Nation and Commemoration, traces the differing celebration of nationhood in two settler societies in terms of the way each has attempted to articulate an ‘international distinctiveness’ (145). The United States, on one hand, relied heavily on the idea of a revolutionary democracy around which to structure its origin, while Australia relied on the land. For Americans, their political values are associated with their founding moment in revolution, and so expressing national identity in terms of political values serves to represent their unique place in world history. Democracy can figure as part of the answer to the question of ‘what is our place in world history?’ (145)
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While an appeal to the land is not absent, as we have already seen in the New Deal documentaries, the land is not what is employed in constructing American distinctiveness in the international sphere. However, the colonial encounter with the land provided Australia with its originary moment: For Australians, living mostly in a few big cities, the continent means less for regional differentiation, [as it does in the US] and can thus more plausibly be represented as something they all share. The very remoteness of the harsh continent from the lives of most Australians allows it to become a symbol which can represent their integration. But more importantly, and unlike political values which might also ground shared community, the continent can be seen to encompass the nation, and its size, and ecological strangeness, can be imagined as worthy of international distinction. (147) As we have seen, the means by which certain film-makers have attempted to transform the land is to employ what Lawson might term ‘well-tried international formulae’. Lawson’s usage indicates a distinct mode of reception in the colonial situation which can be understood as a prominent component of the discourse of white settler culture. However, the common phrase, ‘the mother country’ suggests another way of understanding how imitation and adaptation can be thought of in the Australian context. As the preceding chapters have suggested, for the Australian cinema there are at least four mothers: Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and Italy. By the time of Lawson’s writing, one would have to add France to this list. Apparently what is usually meant when cultural products of colonial culture are seen to be ‘good’ is that these products conform to the discourse of one or another mother country. The Realists, for example, turned to Soviet film theory and communist cultural organization models, while Cecil Holmes responded to an amorphous left international cultural milieu that saw his work range across British, Soviet, and American styles as well as what he understood to be an indigenous realism, even the ‘naturalism’ to which Lawson refers. Heyer too tapped into diverse streams of cultural production which included British and American forms deeply rooted in an institutional discourse as a means of representing local specificity. For Maslyn Williams it was a Catholic-inflected neo-realism. All the Australian films that I have discussed have been understood as displaying a ‘likeness’, which is a condition born of this colonial relationship. If the films are understood in terms of imitation or remaking of other specific texts then it is possible to see the discourse of the mother-child relationship at work. For Lawson in 1965 this is where the ‘naivety’ of Australian cinema exists. Perhaps a better way to understand this relationship is to posit that the Realists, Holmes, Heyer and Williams have imitated particular approaches or styles which others all over the cinematic world were imitating at the same time. In applying them to indigenous situations these documentary film-makers can be understood to be adapting these approaches to local conditions. That is, imitating is succeeded by something else. The ‘same’ sequence – for example of many rivulets forming a single torrent is differently figured in different times and places: as the promise of productivity, as a sign of solidarity, as the threat of destruction, and as the process of nation-building. And in doing this, as Lawson points out, Australian films, unwittingly or not, participated in an international exchange.
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In The Intimate Enemy Ashis Nandy describes a ‘psychology of colonialism’ as it relates to India. This ‘psychology’ can provide a useful model for the international exchange that Lawson identifies in the Australian setting. In his framework, Nandy understands the colonizer and the colonized to be linked in a relationship that, in the case of India, complicates the dichotomy of an aggressive West and passive East. For our purposes Nandy’s construction is useful when he introduces the notion of a peculiar understanding of hypocrisy and imitativeness. [Indian] society has had to make major compromises with outer forces of oppression, backed by the powerful ideology of modernity and by an all conquering technology, and it is still struggling to work through that experience. It has been forced to cultivate the creative self-protection which the victims often show when faced with an inescapable situation: a slightly comical imitativeness which indirectly reveals the ridiculousness of the powerful; an instrumental use of the ways of the powerful, which overtly grants their superiority yet denies their culture (this may involve the rejection of values such as work, productivity, masculinity, maturity or adulthood, rationality and normality); an uncanny ability to subvert the values, skills or traits which may ensure one’s adaptation to the ‘system’ (such as intelligence, creativity, achievement, adjustment, personal growth or development); an over-done obsequiousness which indirectly seeks to limit the options of the target of ingratiation; and a stylized other-worldliness which can disarm at least those who see it as a denial of self-interest. (84) Obviously there is a need to translate some of Nandy’s proposals for the Australian situation. While Nandy is articulating a political strategy that exists in Australia more as a pattern of culture than as the direct residue of power relations he identifies in post-colonial India, such relations do seem pertinent to this discussion. Nandy’s re-reading of ‘Indian psychology’ relies on a kind of assertive childishness. ‘Childishness’ becomes the name of a style or a manner in which hegemonic discourse is appropriated at the same time that it exerts control. But this relationship also reconfigures the force of colonial aggression, short-circuiting the energies that drive colonialism and constructing a discursive circularity where so-called forces of colonization become only one contribution to a global network of discursive mirroring, adaptation, contestation and appropriation. Nandy articulates the idea of childishness more directly in his reading of the figure of Mahatma Gandhi.
Not only did every Westerner and Westernized Indian who came in touch with Gandhi refer at least once to his child’s smile, his admirers and detractors dutifully found him childlike and childish respectively. His ‘infantile’ obstinacy and tendency to tease, his ‘immature’ attacks on the modern world and its props, his ‘juvenile’ food fads and symbols like the spinning wheel – all were viewed as planks of a political platform which defied conventional ideas of adulthood. (56) For Nandy, this persona was one way of addressing ‘colonial racism’ where Gandhi ‘circumvented the unilinear pathway to political adulthood, which the ideology of colonialism would have the subject society and the “child races” walk’ (55). The persona of Gandhi
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provided a childlike attenuation of the discursive field of colonialism, mimicking those forces in a portrayal of malleability unlike the fixity that delineates a colonial subject. Nandy’s reading of Ghandhi provides a model of postcolonial disavowal that can be identified in the Australian films discussed. There is a sense that the interrupted, deflected, never-ending journey structure that these Australian films employ may also be a reflection of a more general cultural disavowal of the various mother discourses discussed. This disavowal, following Nandy, occurs at the level of ‘immature’ imitation. Part of the problem for understanding the discourse of the mother country as dominant or hegemonic is that much of the writing on settler societies stems from an understanding of the mother discourse as the point from which imitation commences. The idea that the mother, or hegemonic discourse, provides the impetus for cultural production in colonial cultures relies on conceptualizing a point of origin. As we have seen, this is a problematic fancy that relies on simple lines of causality that motivate much thinking about colonial cultures. For my purposes it is possible to ‘internationalize’ locally produced texts by pointing to their participation in a global network. It is possible, at this point, to see a convergence of international forces and local inflection rather than a counterfeiting of some foreign currency. Rather than understand the films we have been addressing as depreciated cultural objects in relation to those of a dominant discourse, it is possible to understand these films having further resonance in their fracturing of the colonial culture’s relationship with the hegemonic discourse. Certainly the Australian films we have been discussing are involved in processes of mirroring but it is the kind of imitation that is crucial here and needs addressing. The lack of specificity, this ‘likeness’, comes about because the films discussed did not imitate specific texts. Even Heyer’s films appropriated elements from a range of (quite specific) models. In the case of the four film-makers I have focussed on there is an eclecticism in this period that leads to connections with early Soviet cinema, British documentary and feature narrative fiction film of the 1930s and 1940s, American documentary film of the 1930s and 1940s and Italian neo-realism. There is also a linear history of cinema apparent in the ‘development’ from the earlier adaptations of silent Soviet cinema through later adaptations of 1930s films of British and American cinema and finally, post-war Italian cinema. In the case of the immediate post-war in Australia, film culture was experiencing a massive opening up onto the world due to the influence of the film society movement propagated by the likes of the Realist Film Association. For different people, the dominant or mother culture at this moment, meant different things. For communists and ‘fellow travellers’ it was the Soviet Union and the manner in which the ideology that accompanied the revolution was filtered through communist cultural organizations around the world; for governmental image makers it was other governmental image makers; for romantic Catholics it was romantic Catholic thought. The point here is that there were cultural rewards for those that imitated mother or hegemonic discourse well. The subject matter has to be specific to the colonial culture but the discourse in which it is figured had to be that of some recognizably dominant culture. Things are not so different today – anywhere in the world. One of the characteristics of Australian film culture in the immediate
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post-war is the plethora of discursive formations which were mobilized to understand what was going on. Often this was done from the position of an isolated, ‘settled’ import colony at the receiving end of the colonial relationship – as Heyer’s words which begin this chapter and those of Sylvia Lawson, indicate – with little regard for the complexity of Australia’s participation in a global cultural network. As we have seen, Three in One and The Back of Beyond have a demonstrable life outside of Australia. That is, it appears that the reception of Three in One at Karlovy Vary and Edinburgh, and The Back of Beyond at Venice and other places means that these films were, at least, recognized and in a sense remade, in the international realm of film festivals. It may be that the participation of these films in the kind of humanist realism that Moran and O’Regan locate as the cornerstone for the discourse of documentary, is enough of an internationally acceptable precept for a documentary film to operate internationally. In ‘Two discourses of Australian film’ Moran and O’Regan quote Allan Stout writing about how the documentary might bring about what they call ‘true internationalism’. The [documentary] film shows one half of the world how the other half lives. It does so literally, by showing foreign countries to one another, and is thus a powerful instrument for promoting international understanding. Once you can bring home to ordinary people in every country that they are facing fundamentally the same problems – housing, health, education, working conditions, standards of living – you will have established a tie of mutual sympathy and understanding between them. (Stout qtd in Moran and O’Regan 1983: 164–65) Stout, who was very much a product of the period I have been examining, sees a possibility for settler cultures to transcend locality not simply at the level of the pro-filmic event (landscape, accents) but in the discourse of documentary. As O’Regan points out in Australian National Cinema, national cinema only operates when it is put into discourse. [F]ilms circulate before diverse publics – audiences, critics, policy-makers and other film-makers – who appreciate, interpret and manipulate them. These texts are fashioned from available national and international discursive repertoires: tropes of nation, actual or imagined incidents, stories drawn from the cinema and outside it in literature, theatre, journalism and television. Films fashion textual connections between the output of domestic and international cultural industries. (28) In this schema the imitation and remaking of ‘other’ texts may not necessarily remain fixed in the kind of continuum of sedentary or settler culture that Deleuze and Guattari identify but may be susceptible to the kind of malleability that Nandy discusses in relation to Gandhi’s persona. In emphasizing the ‘international’ aspects of these films (circulation, reception, imitation) it may be possible to invoke a more dynamic and cross-bred form of cinema that enables cultures to ‘travel’ (in the manner Stout proposes) – to deterritorialize and reterritorialize international viewers.
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Note 1. This book has not taken into account Australian feature narrative films of the period which have journey structures. These include Smithy (Ken Hall, 1946), Bush Christmas (Ralph Smart, 1946), Sons of Matthew (Charles Chauvel, 1949), Bitter Springs (Ralph Smart, 1950), The Phantom Stockman (Lee Robinson, 1953), Jedda (Charles Chauvel, 1955), Walk into Paradise (Lee Robinson, 1956), The Shiralee (Leslie Norman, 1957) and The Stowaway (Lee Robinson, Ralph Habib, 1958). This is not to say that this structure is specifically Australian. The American Westerns of this period are one international parallel.
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This filmography contains full credits, some of which have never been published, for all Australian documentary films discussed in the book. I have listed all films viewed in the course of the research for this book. The Archive Project (2006) Australia, 98 mins. Early Works Written and Directed by John Hughes, Produced: John Hughes and Philippa Campey. Edited by Uri Mizrahi. Music Composed by Martin Friedel. The Back of Beyond (1954) Australia, 66 mins. Shell Film Unit (Australia). Produced and Edited: John Heyer. Screenplay: John Heyer, Janet Heyer, Roland Robinson. Dialogue, Narration: Douglas Stewart, John Heyer. Photography: Ross Wood. Music: Sydney John Kay. Photographerâ€™s Assistant: Max Lemon. Assistant Director: George Hughes. Sound: Mervyn Murphy. John Heath. Narrator: Kevin Brennan. Cast: Tom Kruse, William Henry Butler, Jack the Dogger, Old Joe the Rainmaker, the Oldfields of Etadinna, Bejah, Malcolm Arakaringa, the people of the Birdsville Track. Beautiful Melbourne (1947) Australia, 16 minutes. Silent. Produced by J.G. Fitzsimons for the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Photographed by J.G. Fitzsimons, K.J. Coldicutt, B. Mathews. Berlin: Symphony of a City (1927) Walter Ruttman, Germany. Captain Thunderbolt (1953) Australia, 69 mins. Associated TV. Director: Cecil Holmes. Producer: John Wiltshire. Scriptwriter: Creswick Jenkinson. Photography: Ross Wood. Edited: Margaret Cardin. Art Direction: Keith Christie. Music: Sydney John Kay. Production Manager: Peter Cuff. Assistant Director: Rod Adamson. Sound: Robert Allen. Cast: Grant Taylor (Fred Ward), Charles Tingwell (Alan Blake), Rosemary Miller (Joan), Harp McGuire (Mannix), John Fegan (Dalton), Jean Blue (Mrs Ward), John Fernside (Colonel), Loretta Boutmy (Maggie). The City (1939) Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, USA. The Coaster (1947) Cecil Holmes, New Zealand. Drifters (1929) John Grierson, Great Britain. Fighting Back (1948) Cecil Holmes, New Zealand.
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The Forerunner (1955) Australia, 35 mins. Shell Film Unit (Australia). Associate Producer: Janet Heyer. Script Collaborator: Ralph Peterson. Unit Secretary: Erica Hill. Production Assistant: Max Lemon. Photography: Harry Malcolm, George Heath, Ron Horner, Ross Wood. Technical Supervision: Mervyn Murphy. Sound Recordist: John Heath. Library Material: Army Public Relations, Cinesound, Commonwealth Film Unit. Producer Tom Nurse. Introduction: Professor C.H. Munro. Songs ‘Grand Ol’ Man of Summer’ and ‘Tunnel Thru’ the Mountain’ Music by Herbie Marks, Dick Carr, Words by Ralph Peterson. Written and Directed: John Heyer. Gaol Does Not Cure: A Case for the Chronic Alcoholic (1946) Australia, 12 minutes. Silent. Germany, Year Zero (1947) Roberto Rossellini, Italy. Gold of Naples (1955) Vittoria De Sica , Italy. Grass (1925) Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Beaumont Schoedsack, USA. Heritage (1935) Charles Chauvel, Australia. Housing Problems (1935) Edgar Anstey and Arthur Elton, Great Britain. Indonesia Calling (1946) Joris Ivens, Australia, 22 mins. Sound. The Waterside Workers Union of Australia. Camera: Marion Michelle. Montage: Joris Ivens. Commentary: Catherine Duncan. Commentator: Peter Finch. Industrial Britain (1933) Robert Flaherty and John Grierson, Great Britain. In My Beginning (1947) Australia, 20 mins. Colour. Sound. Produced by Realist Film Unit. Photographed by Bob Mathews, Ken Coldicutt and Gerhard Harant. Written by J.C. Nield, and the pupils of Koornong School, in particular Mavourneen Box, Souzka Frankel, and Jenepher and David Potts. The Land (1942) Robert Flaherty, USA. Listen to Britain (1942) Humphrey Jennings, USA. Louisiana Story (1948) Robert Flaherty, USA. Love in the City (1953) Cesare Zavattini, Italy. Love on the Dole (1941) John Baxter, Great Britain. Man of Aran (1934) Robert Flaherty, Great Britain. The Man With the Movie Camera (1929) Dziga Vertov, USSR. Mike and Stefani (1952) Australia, 64 mins. Film Division: Department of Interior for the Department of Information. Producer, Scriptwriter: R. Maslyn Williams. Dialogues: Roland Loewe. Photography: Reg Pearse. Editors: R. Maslyn Williams, Inman Hunter, Brereton Porter. Music: Robert Hughes. Sound Recordist: R. Maslyn Williams, Alan Anderson, Kevin Long. Narrators: Martin Royal, Josephine O’Neill. Cast: Mycola, Stefani, Ginga, Ladu, Valerie Paling (as themselves). Moana (1926) Robert Flaherty, USA. Music Camp (1949) Australia Department of Information. Writer, Director: R. Maslyn Williams. Photography: R.G. Pearse. Sound: Alan Anderson, Don Kennedy. Production Associate: Bern Gandy. Commentary: Wilfred Thomas. Supervision: Stanley Hawes. The Music Makers (1955) Australia Film Division: Department of the Interior. Music of Jean Sibelius, George Frederick Handel, Ernst von Dohnanyi, Geelong Grammar Music Camp. Photography: Frank Bagnall. Production Assistants: Ann Gurr, John Morris. Recordist: Alan Anderson. Written and Produced: Maslyn Williams. Editor: Stanley Moore. Nanook of the North (1922) Robert Flaherty, USA.
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Night Mail (1936) Harry Watt and Basil Wight, Great Britain. The Overlanders (1946) Australia/Great Britain, 91 mins. Ealing Studios. Producer: Michael Balcon. Associate Producer: Ralph Smart. Script and Direction: Harry Watt. Research: Dora Birtles. Photography: Osmond Borradaile. Camera Operator: Carl Kayser. Camera Assistant: Axel Poignant. Supervising Editor: Leslie Norman. Editor: Inman Hunter. Music: John Ireland. Production Supervisor: Jack Rix. Unit Manager: Arch Spiers. Sound Recording: Beresford Hallett. Second Unit Director: John Heyer. Cast: Chips Rafferty (Dan McAlpine), John Nugent (Bill Parsons), Daphne Campbell (Mary Parsons), Jean Blue (Mrs Parsons), Helen Grieve (Helen Parsons), John Fernside (Corky), Peter Pagan (Sinbad), Frank Ransome (Charlie), Stan Tolhurst (Bert), Marshall Crosby (Minister), Clyde Combo (Jacky), Henry Murdoch (Nipper), Edmund Allison and Jock Levy (two-up players). Paisà (1946) Roberto Rossellini, Italy. A Place to Live (1946) Australia, 15 mins. Sound. Produced by Realist Film Unit. Photographed by Bob Mathews, K.J. Coldicutt and J. Fitzsimons. The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936) Pare Lorentz, USA. Power and the Land (1940) Joris Ivens, USA. Prices and the People (1948) Australia, 20 mins. Sound. Produced by the Realist Film Unit. Script by Jim Crawford. Photographed and Edited by Bob Mathews. À Propos de Nice (1929) Jean Vigo, France. Rain (1929) Joris Ivens, Netherlands. The River (1937) Pare Lorentz, USA. Rome, Open City (1945) Roberto Rossellini, Italy. Seeing Red (1995) Annie Goldson, New Zealand. Shoeshine (1946) Vittorio De Sica, Italy. The Spanish Earth (1937) Joris Ivens, USA. Stromboli (1949) Roberto Rosselini, Italy. These are Our Children (1947) Australia, 20 mins. Silent. They Chose Peace (1952) Australia, 20 mins. Sound. Photography: Bob Mathews, Keith Gow. The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) Alfred Hitchcock, Great Britain. This is the ABC (1955) Australia Film Division: Department of the Interior, for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Photography: Frank Bagnall. Sound: Alan Anderson. Music: John Anthill. Editor: Anne Gurr. Producer: Maslyn Williams. Director: Shan Benson. Compere: Rupert Chance. Three in One (1957) Australia, 89 mins. Australian Tradition Films. Director and Producer: Cecil Holmes. Photography: Ross Wood. Editor: A. William Copeland. Music: Raymond Hanson. Production Manager: Bewick Hack. Assistant Directors: R.G. Bayly, D.B. Hart. Sound: Hans Wetzel. Introduced by John McCallum. ‘Joe Wilson’s Mates’ Script by Rex Rienets from the short story ‘The Union Buries its Dead’. Cast: Edmund Allison (Tom Stevens), Reg Lye (the swaggie), Alexander Archdale (Firbank), Charles Tasman (the undertaker), Don McNiven (Patrick Rooney), Jerold Wells (Wally), Chris Kempster (Longun), Brian Anderson (Joe), Kenneth Warren (Andy), Evelyn Docker (Maggie), Ben Gabriel (the priest), the Bushwackers Band. ‘The Load of Wood’ Script by Rex Rienets from the short story ‘The Load of Wood’.
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Cast: Jock Levy (Darkie), Leonard Thiele (Ernie), Ossie Wenban (Sniffy), John Armstrong (Chilla), Jim Doone (Joe), Ted Smith (Coulson), Edward Lovell (Tye), Keith Howard (Shea), Eileen Ryan (Mrs Johnson). ‘The City’ Script by Ralph Peterson. Cast: Joan Landor (Kathie), Brian Vicary (Ted), Betty Lucas (Freda), Gordon Glenwright (Al), Ken Wayne (first cab driver), Stewart Ginn (second cab driver), Alan Trevor (preacher), Pat Martin and Margaret Christensen (customers), John Fernside (vagrant), Alastair Roberts (bodgie). Turksib (1929) Victor Turin, USSR. Umberto D (1952) Vittorio de Sica, Italy. The Valley is Ours (1948) Australia, 36 mins. Department of Information for the Australian National Film Board. Written and Directed: John Heyer. Photography: Reg Pearse, Edward Cranstone. Jack Rogers. Music: John Kay. Narration: Nigel Lovell. Assistant Director: Malcolm Otten. Research: Jules Feldmann, John Murray. Recording: Alan Anderson, Don Kennedy. Supervision: Stanley Hawes. The Valley of the Tennessee (1944) Alexander Hammid, USA. Words for Freedom (1956) Australia, 19 mins. Building Workers Union (Victoria). Director: Cecil Holmes. Research, Art Work: Les Tanner. Narration: Dorothy Hewett. Narrator: Leonard Thiele.
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Australian Post-War Documentary Film An Arc of Mirrors By Deane Williams
Deane Williams is Head of Film and Television Studies, Monash University, Melbourne. He is author of Mapping the Imaginary: Ross Gibson’s Camera Natura and, with Brian McFarlane, author of Michael Winterbottom, and Editor of Studies in Documentary Film. * * * ‘This is an immensely thoughtful and timely contribution to the growing literature on the history of documentary cinema.’ – Charles Wolfe, Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. ‘Deane Williams invites readers on an always enlightening and often exciting journey, through a complex web of people and films and events, to view Australian culture through the documentary film ‘arc of mirrors’. – Associate Professor Ina Bertrand, Principal Fellow in the Screen Studies Programme, University of Melbourne.
. ,-&-)& *%'&%+
intellect / www.intellectbooks.com
‘A thoroughly and painstakingly researched study of its subject, which draws upon a wealth of new oral and other forms of historical resource related to the Australian labour movement and associated filmmaking’ – Ian Aitken, Associate Professor in Film Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, and Senior Research Fellow in Film Studies at De Montfort University.
Australian Post-War Documentary Film: An Arc of Mirrors
This book is, at one level, a selective history of Australian documentary film in the immediate post-war years. At another level it is a sketch of an internationalist progressive film culture in the same place and period. It examines some landmark films in Australian Film History, including Three in One, The Back of Beyond and Mike and Stefani and places these important works in an international context. In this groundbreaking work of film history Deane Williams proposes that, while these films have been understood as inferior remakes of “overseas” written, theatrical and filmic texts, these films are evidence of an Australian film culture that was a key participant in an international network of documentary practice and criticism.