This week's readings | Australasian action/adventure films

Clips Considered and rejected Main screening


Before I address today's topic, I'll just say more about the first two assessment items, as it has become clear that I have not got a couple of things across clearly.

Firstly, the essay. Here I expect to find some discussion of the genre or type of film you are working with, and you may wish to cite something like a definition (or more than one such). I would expect you to read the relevant chapter of Ten Types and/or of Moran & Vieth, and I think it's worth pointing out that all of us depend to some extent on Steve Neale in general and Genre and Hollywood in particular: so you should definitely read the relevant section of that, if it is available. You should then apply what you have established about the genre or type of film to an analysis of three Australian feature films of your choice. One of these may also be the film that you research for the second assignment. There might then a little overlap at one point in both pieces of work: but I don't have a problem with that.

Secondly, researching one film. Choose one film that is not already in the Oz Film Database. Firstly, find out everything factual you can about it. Secondly, say something about it, not forgetting to discuss what type or genre of film it is, arguably. This is when you may wish to take one of the copies of films that I have made available - for this second assignment, not the first. But you do not have to use one of those films - they are just for your convenience. The film you choose will almost certainly be in black (not blue) in the films linked list.

A note about the Internet Movie Database: Although many people get their primary data from this site, I'm making a particular request for you not to simply grab a bunch of their data with their formatting and dump it into your page (as you'll see many people have done in the past). There are a number of reasons for this: one is that you end up with too much information in your page - you only need the main cast and crew members. Secondly, it's lazy; poor scholarship, sloppy research. Thirdly, it's illegal: owns that information in that form, and you expose Murdoch University to a charge of breaking copyright. You should at least acknowledge that you got the information from their site. The same applies to or any site that you get information from. You can also write a link from your page to theirs instead of copying a great deal of data from it into the text of your page.

Finally, before the tute tomorrow at 1130, I have to see a chiropractor at 1000. I hope not to be late, but if I am: start without me - talk among yourselves. If I don't come at all, I've been rendered TPI: Temporarily or Permanently Disabled. :) I hope that's a joke.

The arrangement of the topics in Moran & Vieth is alphabetical, but as it happens the first category starting with A is historically quite appropriate to start with. The adventure film is not the first type of film to appear on the screen, but the adventure genre itself is as old as can be imagined. Albert Moran writes that Neale suggests, following Nerlich ([1977] 1987: 3-4) that:

the ideology of adventure in its modern sense - its association with the active seeking out of such events - was developed in conjunction firstly with the medieval cult of the courtly knight, secondly with merchant adventuring (and state-sponsored piracy) in the early modern period, and thirdly with the spread of empire during the course of the nineteenth century. (2000: 58)

I would suggest that the adventure story as such is much older, as seen in ancient stories like The Odyssey and Beowulf. However, there is a rich source of such stories, as many writers point out, in medieval romance literature.

Neale says that 'nowadays':

The term 'action-adventure' has been used ... to pinpoint a number of obvious characteristics common to these genres and films: a propensity for spectacular physical action, a narrative structure involving fights, chases and explosions, and in addition to the deployment of state-of-the-art special effects, an emphasis in performance on athletic feats and stunts. (2000: 52)

The Man from Hong Kong (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1975)
There could not really be a better clip to illustrate this definition than one from a film from 1975, in the Renaissance of Australian cinema. The action is set on one of the two most archetypal sights/sites in the whole of Australia. It is said that tourists come to Australia for the three Rs: the R-bour (Sydney Harbour, with its recognisable Bridge), the (Great Barrier) Reef, and the Rock. It's called Uluru now, but when this film was shot it was called Ayers Rock. The local people and traditional owners, the Anangu, prefer that people do not climb the rock at all, and ask that certain parts of the Rock are not photographed. It is extremely unlikely that what you're about to see would be allowed to be filmed today. [clip "start" 00.24 - 7.20]

Very few martial arts films have been made in Australia, and it's possible that Brian Trenchard-Smith has made three of the four of which I'm aware (the fourth being Watch the Shadows Dance (Marc Joffe, 1987) aka Nightmaster - which at least has Nicole Kidman in it). Trenchard-Smith is an important name in the context of this week's topic. He has only ever made made 'genre films', and indeed has advocated the making of more in Australia, in an interview with Andrew L. Urban of Urban Cinefile. Since 1989 he has worked outside of Australia, and almost entirely in television, but he was a significant figure in Australian feature film in the 1970s and 1980s. His significance is perhaps indicated in the fact that the DVD release of The Man from Hong Kong was carried out, not by a commercial enterprise, but by the National Film and Sound Archive. (This body keeps changing its name and location, and may or may not when you read this be called Screensound.) The world awaits your dissertation on Brian Trenchard-Smith. As it does more research on another entertainment film director Phillip Avalon.

In Australian cinema there are few feats more athletic than that performed - not by a human actor alone but mainly by a horse - in George Miller's The Man from Snowy River (1982). Tom Burlinson's character has to pursue the wild stallion for a number of reasons, which include winning the hand of Sigrid Thornton. So he goes where none of the other more experienced riders are prepared to go - almost vertically downwards. [clip "leap" 1.29.31 - 1.32]

One of the things that The Man can be considered to be is a western. For Moran, the western is a sub-set of the adventure film and so is the war film, although both are also often considered separately. If a film about the adventures of a bushranger - Ned Kelly being the outstanding example - is a western, then there have been many such films made in Australia ... and I used to give a presentation on that topic, as linked here. War films I've kept away from - but if we had to look at one, we could do worse than consider Attack Force Z (Tim Burstall, 1980), which has recently been released on DVD, because of the local connexion. One of the heroes of Z Force was and is Jack Sue, who is a Western Australian, and has a personal connexion with me, as my father used to play in dance bands with him. Z Force was a guerrilla force which went behind enemy lines, at great risk.

I'll begin at the point where Mel Gibson is personally introduced. He wasn't the big star that he is now, tho he had featured in six films by this time, including Mad Max, so he was worth showing off. The other interesting point to note in this scene is the participation of John Waters, only ten minutes into the film. He was at least as well known at the time as Mel Gibson, having done a similar number of films, and a good deal of TV, including the very popular mini-series, "Rush". And yet he is killed off at about the tenth minute of the film. [clip "Mel" 5.29 - 11.03]
Crocodile Dundee (Peter Faiman, 1986) is based on a real life croc hunter, one Rodney Ansell, as I report in my article on 'Crocodile Dundee as bushman' which was published in Screen Education, in which I write that:

Rodney Ansell ... did apparently survive after a crocodile overturned the kind of small boat we see Mick show Sue in the film. Ansell was then stranded on an island for two months, during which he lived on the shark and buffalo he shot. He wrote a book about his experiences called To Fight the Wild, which was subsequently the basis of a documentary film of the same name, so all this was well known, and could therefore well form the basis of a scenario for a fictional film.
Unfortunately, Ansell came to a violent end in 1999, not in the jaws of a croc, but shot dead when he fired on police rather than surrender to them when they wanted to question him about a domestic violence matter.

Although the creators of the film have not acknowledged the Ansell precedent, as far as I know - to the extent that he might have inspired its story, it may be seen, in this very limited way, as a biopic. [clip1 "boat" 21.50-24.10, clip 2 "rescue" 35.06 - 36.36, clip 3 "knife" 1.17.50 - 1.18.42]

I'm glad that Albert Moran has headlined women heroes and especially the one in Shame (Steve Jodrell, 1988), as it is one of the best of the handful of feature films made in Western Australia and was directed by someone I used to know personally when we were 'at uni' at the same time. It's just a pity he spells wrongly the name of the heroine (oh sorry, not allowed to use that word, even tho we have to replace it with two). Shame is a bit of road movie - Asta rides into town on a motorbike - a bit of a western - the loner rides into town, cleans it up, and leaves - and a bit of a woman's film - with a powerful central female character. The masculinist culture of the small town (the film was shot in Toodyay) includes a tolerance of rape, so Asta has to take on the rapists. At the time of writing, the film has not been re-released on DVD, so the clip you'll see has been copied to digital from videotape. You might know the lead actor, Deborra-Lee Furness, better as Mrs Hugh Jackman. [clip "attack" 28.15 - 31.45)

The girls in Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phil Noyce, 2002) have escaped from a state institution and are trying to make their way home to their mothers. They have several encounters along the way, and are being pursued by the authorities, assisted by a black tracker, Moodoo, played by David Gulpilil. In this short excerpt, you'll see the skill the girls use to mislead the searchers, and also a moment of acting subtle as anything in Australia film. [clip "socks" 57.25 - 58.45]

In 2004-5, this second week was concerned with the "western". The relevant Chapter 2: the western from TTAF is still available, as is the related presentation, and you can choose this topic for your first essay if you wish. Of course, you would now take into account The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005).

In 2006, the second week offered a presentation on the unity of Australian cinema, which is still available.

Additional references

Marchetti, Gina 1989, 'Action-adventure as ideology', in Ian Angus and Sut Jhally eds, Cultural Politics in Contemporary America, Routledge, New York: 182-197.

New: October, 2006 | Now: 19 December, 2010