H231 Critical Review and Bibliography
By: Samuel Wood
Ned Kelly (Gregor Jordan, 2003)
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
YOUNG NED (10 YRS)
ISAIAH "WILD" WRIGHT
CHARLES "BUD" TINGWELL
Premiered in Melbourne March 22nd 2003
National Australian release 27th March 2003
International release dates:
USA - May 20th 2003
UK - September 26th 2003
New Zealand: July 24, 2003
Hungary - October 9th 2003
Netherlands - October 2nd 2003
Germany - November 13th 2003
Iceland - June 6th 2003
Sweden - September 5th 2003
Romania: Apr 4, 2003
Venezuela: May 14, 2003
Japan: May 24, 2003
Rated MA15+ (AUS)
Running time: 110 minutes
Budget of $34 million (AUD)
Marketing budget in excess of $2.5 million (AUD)
A co-production between the UK, USA and Australia. (Working Title, UK. Working Title Australia. United International Pictures, USA.)
Distributed by Universal Pictures, USA
The movie was adapted from Robert Dreweâs novel, Our Sunshine (1991).
Heath Ledger (Lead role debut in Gregor Jordanâs first feature, Two Hands (1999), which one the AFI Best Film Award 1999.)
Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings, Black Hawk Down. He got the role in Lord of the Rings straight out of drama school and apparently has a large fan base in the UK.)
Geoffrey Rush (Academy Award Winner for Shine. Other movies include, Lantana, Elizabeth, Oscar and Lucinda)
Rachael Griffiths (Murielâs Wedding, Me, Myself and I)
Charles ãBudä Tingwell (Breaker Morant, The Dish, Amy)
Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive)
For more details see: http://www.nedkellythemovie.com/index.php?action=castcrew.cast
Gregor Jordan: Director (His first short film, Swinger won the Tropicana Short Film Festival in Sydney and won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1995. His debut feature film, Two Hands, was selected for the Sundance Film Festival in Jan 1999. Two Hands was nominated for 11 AFI awards in 1999, and won Best Film, Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay. It also debuted at Number One in the Australian Box Office that July.)
Oliver Stapleton: Director of Photography (Cider House Rules, The Shipping News. He worked with Gregor Jordan on Buffalo Soldiers in 2001.)
Steven Jones Evans, Production Designer: Jones Evans has a number of Australian Film Institute (AFI) nominations; these include, Best Production Design on "Romper Stomper" 1992; Best Achievement in Production Design for both "Siam Sunset" and "Two Hands" 1999 and Best Achievement in Production Design for "Love Serenade" 1996. For his work on "Metal Skin", he won the 1995 AFI Award for Best Production Design. He was nominated for an Australian IF Award this year for his work on "Australian Rules".
Anna Borghesi, Costume Designer: Nominated six times for Best Costume in the Australian Film Institute Awards, Anna Borghesi has contributed to many Australian feature films, including Russell Crowe's controversial "Romper Stomper" and Jan Chapman's "Love Serenade", winner of the Camera D'or - Cannes Film Festival. Her theatre credits number over forty productions, including eight with director Neil Armfield.
For more details see:
Tim Bevan, Producer: (Founder of Working Title Films, UK) Ned Kelly is the 56th film he has produced. Others include; Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Fargo (1996), Elizabeth (1998), Notting Hill (1999), High Fidelity (2000), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) and About A Boy (2002). See link below for more production detail:
Interviews with cast and crew:
Box Office Revenue:
ãAustralia's most popular film of the moment is Ned Kelly, which sold $2.6 million worth of tickets on its opening weekend and may total $10 million by the end of an eight-week run.ä David Dale, Sydney Morning Herald (4/4/2003).
ãNed Kelly becomes third highest box office topperä By Bec Smith.
'Media Day' reports that Australiaâs latest home grown feature film has become Australiaâs latest box office topper with UIPâs Ned Kelly pulling in the highest takings at cinemasâ this week. Ned Kellyâs taking on the first day made it become the third highest box office opening day for an Australian film at $460, 000. Its first week total was $3.39 million according to MPDAA figures released yesterday, outstripping other newcomer Cradle to the Grave which took in $1.356 million behind Daredevil in second spot taking in $1.817 million.
The filmâs gross box office total was $7.7 million (AUD) in its fifth week of screening.
Response to Ned Kelly has been mixed; many reviews state that the story is somewhat rushed and lacking in detail. The performance of actors has been praised.
No less than twenty reviews posted on this particular web page:
Triple Jâs Megan Spencerâs review:
(Rare) Favourable Australian review by Andrew Frost:
Historians have vocalised their debates over the portrayal of the Kelly story.
Report in The Age, 14/3/2003 on community response and effect of the movie upon sites connected with the Kelly legend:
Melbourne and Sydney based reviews:
Film History of the Ned Kelly Story:
Ned Kelly is no less than the tenth portrayal of the Australian legend on film. The first being in 1906, and commonly referred to as the first feature length movie. For details on the filmic history of the Ned Kelly story, including casts and crews (1906 - 2003), see:
A British production of the film in 1970, directed by Tony Richardson, also titled Ned Kelly, starred Mick Jagger as the famous bushranger.
Gregor Jordan on Tony Richardsonâs Ned Kelly, ãIt was such tragic miscasting," Jordan says of the Rolling Stones' lead singer's turn as Kelly. "It really upset people here and made them angry and pissed off that people from outside would take a story that's so important to Australians so flippantly."
The web presence for Ned Kelly, is vast, to say the least. The main movie website (www.nedkellythemovie.com) is impressive, with full interviews of cast and crew, press conferences and much more. Presentation is telling of the movieâs $2.5 million dollar plus marketing budget.
Other information gathered came from the Google search engine and links from the H231 website.
Probably the most unlikely of places to find quality information, was at a Heath Ledger fan site:
Ned Kelly was adapted from Robert Dreweâs 1991 novel, Our Sunshine. (Our Sunshine was apparently how Nedâs father referred to Ned.) The main plot revolves around the Kelly family and the persecution of the Irish settlers by the British colonials. The vindictive attitudes toward the Kelly family from the British authorities are portrayed through falsified and fabricated criminal charges by the Victorian police. This led to the rise of infamy for the Kelly Gang, despite Nedâs attempts to live abiding by the law.
The story follows the flight of Ned (Heath Ledger), his brother Dan (Laurence Kinlan), Joe Byrne (Orlando Bloom) and Steve Hart (Philip Barantini), from the authorities. The standoff between the gang and the Victorian police at Stringybark Creek leads to the Kelly Gang being sought as outlaws, after two officers are shot. While being pursued by the authorities, the gang start robbing banks and nobility (charming the victims in the process) and redistributing the proceeds to embattled settlers, gaining a reputation among the struggling lower classes as heroes, much to the disgust of the British Authorities.
The Victorian Premier (Charles ãBudä Tingwell) seeks the services of Police Commissioner, Francis Hare (Geoffrey Rush) to capture the outlaws. The Gang continues to elude the authorities and win the admiration and support of most, despite the huge reward for their capture. The desperate attempts of their pursuers see the Kelly gang pushed to extremes of survival in harsh conditions.
The story is rushed to the final, fateful showdown at Glenrowan, where the four step out of the inn, into the night wearing the legendary home-made armour to face an onslaught of police gunfire. The disastrous end to the Kelly gangâs fight against the Imperialist establishment sees them outnumbered many times over by a virtual army of officers. As daylight breaks, Ned, the only survivor of the gang, is captured and the movie ends.
I need not worry about telling how the movie ends, as it is a very well known myth. Or at least that is what the makers are relying on. The numerous holes in the plot are equal to stylistic inconsistencies, not to say that Ned Kelly wasnât thrilling to watch. I was easily fooled into thinking that I was watching a Hollywood epic, with the ever-present musical score there to remind me how much I should empathise with the lead character and his cause. If it wasnât for Heath Ledgerâs performance in the lead role, I could have mistaken the movie for Young Guns, without the American accents and an Australian iconography.
The embellished storyline to allow a romantic interest for Ned, (Naomi Wattsâ fictional character, Julia Cook) derails any hope for historical accuracy Jordan was hoping for. While the makers painstakingly recreated the armour worn by the gang for the Glenrowan showdown, they simultaneously sabotaged what could have been an epic tale. The screen time taken by the romantic sub-plot and Joe Byrneâs relentless womanising, would have better served the emotional response of the audience by focussing more on Kellyâs family and estranged friends. At the close of the movie, captions tell of Nedâs hanging, despite a thirty-odd thousand signature petition against the sentence (historical fact), but we are given no outcome of his familyâs fate. The story left Nedâs mother in a prison cell and his sister being constantly harassed by a police officer with no resolution or closure.
Attention to detail in both script and style could have made up for any fictional element. Aesthetic accuracy pales significantly next to a legendary (if completely Anglo-centric) Australian story. The armour could have been made out of aluminium foil for all I care, as long as the gratuitous need for a larger market (romantic sub-plot to attract female viewers) wasnât so blatantly obvious. I must add that the inclusion of Julia Cook did work with the film by (unnecessarily) highlighting the class antagonism present in the colony.
The disjointed nature of both the screenplay and cinematography are drastic flaws within Ned Kelly. Beautifully shot landscapes in sepia tones are broken up by shots of ferns, a red kangaroo and native birds using a much richer colour film stock. These shots would seem better placed in a Victorian Tourism advertisement, rather a movie bearing many generic characteristics of a Western, or British period drama.
After so much criticism, I must commend the scriptwriter(s) (John McDonaghâs first feature) for the portrayal of Ned and Heath Ledgerâs performance in the role. The movie succeeded in showing Kelly as a folkloric hero of the under-classes. Violent scenes were not glorified, as with so many Western or action movies. The remorse and depth of character, performed so well by Ledger, salvaged what could have been a completely vacuous experience. I can imagine that the pressure upon Gregor Jordan to make an epic would have been tremendous. Dealing with well seasoned producers with a huge budget (for an Australian film) and having to make the movie appealing to an international market, would have to be daunting, considering that this is only his third feature film. Jordan says it himself in the press conference on the official movie website, that it was difficult to fit several yearsâ worth of story into two hours.
At best, this film offers light entertainment and may well have inspired me to research more on the Kelly story (just to fill those plot voids). It avoids ideological stance and romanticises, instead of making a more poignant statement on the underlying class and race issues present within the plot. The readily recognisable Australian flora and fauna could increase tourism (probably to the Ned Kelly specific areas in Victoria to fill those voids also). Ned Kelly does no more for our culture on an international filmic landscape than Crocodile Dundee.
Thirty four million dollars can buy several internationally renowned stars, authentic costumes, an apt and beautiful musical score, and a language coach to help with plausible Irish accents. But it seems that $34 million cannot buy enough screen time to tell a story in enough detail to allow the audience to engage deeply with the characters and their plight. With all the marketing hype that is usually attributed to the Hollywood film industry, Ned Kelly shamelessly chases monetary returns to justify expenditure.
The dismay of the producers at the MA15+ rating, (as opposed to an M rating, which they were hoping for) indicates a significant loss of box office revenue for the film, as the restriction on under-15âs alienates a large portion of the cinema-going audience. If their portrayal of Ned Kelly resembles how proud and defiant he really was, let it be justice for gratuitously chasing profit and selling out a rare, proud aspect of colonial Australian history and some serious Australian talent, in both cast and crew, for a fat Hollywood budget.
Ned Kelly in Relation to Australian National Cinema as a Medium-Sized English Language Cinema
Gregor Jordanâs Ned Kelly (2003) is a clear representation of the antipodal status of Australian cinema, as a medium sized, English language cinema. Drawing from generic Hollywood conventions and displaying distinct and previously foregrounded Australian characteristics, Ned Kelly relies upon many previous, thematically similar, both foreign and local, filmic incarnations. The economic pressure of needing to attract an international mainstream audience is evident within the movie; as both a text, and as a site of Australian cultural significance.
As an example of Australian National Cinema, Ned Kelly presents and re-presents common Australian thematic preoccupations. The Kelly story could be seen as an example of our popular stereotype, the working class ãAussie Battlerä. The Castle (dir. Rob Sitch, 2000) is one good example of this stereotype, where a working-class familyâs home is under threat from property developers. The (white) land issue is also presented within Ned Kelly. The anti-authoritarian themes are present in both The Castle and Ned Kelly, in both movies; the struggle is between the underclass hero and a faceless establishment. Both through character and imagery, the outback stereotype is present. Similarities between Ned Kelly and Crocodile Dundee (dir. Peter Faiman, 1986) would include the practical, rough nature of the lead male characters.
The unique and quintessentially Australian elements of Ned Kelly present an international audience with readily recognisable images and familiar Australian characteristics. The Australian ãoutbackä landscape takes its place within the narrative as the Kelly gang battle the inhospitable nature of their surrounds while outrunning the authorities. OâRegan (1996, p 92) outlines how international audiences customize Australian cinema for their own purposes. ãBy virtue of its medium size, Australia and Australians have become known internationally for a narrow range of things: peoples, stereotypes, myths and settings.ä (1996, p 92) OâRegan continues to state that the ãfreakishä nature of Australian fauna and movie characters (ãoutback typesä) contributes to the ãshared symbolic resource for international filmmakers and audiencesä. (OâRegan quoting Gibson (1992), p 92) So the appropriation of an Australian myth and landscape/fauna for the movie Ned Kelly relies on previously released Australian films and the international audienceâs literacy in Australian texts. Picnic at Hanging Rock (dir. Peter Weir, 1975), The Man From Snowy River (dir. George Miller, 1982) and Crocodile Dundee (dir. Peter Faiman, 1986) would be examples of previously released Australian films on the international landscape, contributing to the ãshared symbolic resource for international filmmakers and audiencesä.
Ross Gibson gives an account of Australian generic qualities in relation to national identity and the landscape. He states that,
ãThe generically Australian story argues that society has no hope of stretching out to cover the unsubdued continent. Implicitly, if it is taken that society en masse cannot make a mark on the land, then the next most comforting myth would have to be a story of heroic individualism, adaptability, and ingenuity in the unwelcoming arena of national definition-the nation then becomes a motley gang of knockabout types, unified in fact of their survival but not uniform or conformist according to rigid social schemes·In the inhuman landscape, humanism prevails.ä (Gibson, 1992. p 73)
Gibson continues to give examples such as Crocodile Dundee, Mad Max, Rikky and Pete and Whatever Happened in Green Valley? Gregor Jordanâs Ned Kelly certainly follows these generic constructions of myth and nationhood. Through their flight from police, the Kelly gang were forced to battle the ãinhumanä nature of the landscape, but they prevailed, only to succumb to the ãrigid social schemesä, in the form of the Victorian police and the justice system.
Rama Venkatasawmy discusses the antipodal nature of Australian film as a medium-sized cinema,
ã·the antipodean aesthetic of Australian filmmaking is somehow perpetually ãcondemnedä to hybridise, to concoct mixtures of local and foreign filmic ingredients in order to achieve both critical and commercial success· such an act sooner or later calls for the acknowledgement of unequal cultural exchanges as constituting a driving force to this peculiar form of productivity permitted by the very condition of antipodality itself. Unequal cultural exchanges are caused primarily by the ãunfairä competition and comparison which emerge from the interaction between medium-sized cinemas· and larger cinemas controlled by corporate giants.ä (Venkatasawmy, 1996)
In a globalised cultural production industry, the antipodes are forced to use the dominant modes of production and thematic preoccupations in relation to the strongest market forces. The vertically integrated North American market, dominates the cultural production industry, from funding to international distribution. The resulting unequal cultural exchanges present within Ned Kelly could be seen as the fictionalisation of the story for a broadened market audience. Thematically similar movies from Hollywood would include; Braveheart (dir. Mel Gibson, 1995), Born on the Fourth of July (dir. Oliver stone, 1989), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (dir. Kevin Reynolds, 1991). Elements of these movies are present within Ned Kelly, in some form. The story of a colonial revolution is very close to the North American sense of republican nationhood, after British colonisation. Braveheart depicts a Celtic folk legend, in the form of William Wallace, and his ensuing struggle against imperial forces. The Robin Hood element of Ned Kelly is undeniably a form of social inequity, robbing the affluent to help the poor. These are just a few examples of internationally recognised filmic portrayals of folkloric heroes. The major indiscretion between these examples and Ned Kelly is that the Kelly legend is more recent in our history and uniquely Australian. The unequal cultural exchange can be identified as the elements of these examples present in the Australian story of Ned Kelly and the utilisation of these pre-existing Australian and Hollywood generic portrayals.
The hybridity of themes and iconography present within Ned Kelly are resounded in the ãsecond stage of cultural transferä, as OâRegan outlines Yuri Lotmanâs theory, ãtranslation, imitations and adaptations multiplyä. OâRegan continues to elaborate, ãThis second stage gives rise to a relatively strict division of labour: the Australian is the content, the flavour, the accent and the social text, while the international provides the underlying forms, values, narrative resolutions, etc.ä (1996, p 218) The uniquely Australian story of Ned Kelly takes on elements of Robin Hood, William Wallace and even George Washington. The values of these characters and the form of their respective stories are presented through an Australian cultural representation for an international audience.
In a report for an Australian Broadcasting Authority conference in 2001, Scott Maher states,
ãWith increasing levels of international investment, Australian audiovisual commodities have the potential to display less Australian cultural representation and more generic qualities. This indicates a 'trade-first approach' with an emphasis on export driven audiovisual production into the borderless markets of a globalised economy. The strategy combats the structural inequality that prevents Australian producers from successfully competing with foreign producers in local and international markets.ä
ãThe strategyä refers to a cultural objectives policy, to protect Australian content in an increasingly internationalised market dominated by trans-national corporations. The vertically integrated North American market dominates the global cultural production landscape, from funding to production and distribution. Ned Kellyâs post-production took place in the UK and benefited from the foreign investment offset tax, thus not utilising Australian post-production facilities but benefiting from Australian foreign investment policy. The concern of Australian commodities displaying less Australian cultural representation and more generic qualities is present within Ned Kelly. The policy will hopefully combat the restructuring of production enterprises to gain maximum economic benefit from Australian cultural material. Statements made by Perth-born, Nelson Woss, highlight the economic nature of the production of Ned Kelly,
ã·I did essentially a US-structured deal; I didn't do an Australian producing deal. I mean, that's how we survive." By this Woss means that because the budget for Ned Kelly was greater than $A15m, the deal was structured as a foreign co-production in order to take advantage of the federal government's 12.5% tax offset for foreign film investment. (Article by Michael Hutak, The Bulletin, 18/2/03)
This article in The Bulletin contains frank interviews with both Woss and Tim Bevan (Executive Producer) on the structuring of the production. The importance of monetary return is prevalent within the article, without mention of cultural importance. The envisioned box-office success of the movie was counted on by Bevanâs previous successes, ãgreen-lightingä a budget of up to $25 million (US) for the movie. The article contains quotes on directions given to Jordan to ãcast the hell out of itä, to ensure box-office success (based on the proven appeal of the cast).
So the end result sees an Australian story - fictionalised, romanticised and economically rationalised to fit within a measured market parameter, and based on pre-existing themes and successes. The story of Ned Kelly depicts a fight against social imperialism, and the making of Ned Kelly, depicts an example of cultural imperialism. With attention to detail like Irish accents for the Irish characters, but less consideration for historical accuracy. It could be argued that the Irish accents are there for appeal to an Irish audience, to be pitched as an extension of their own ongoing colonial struggle.
Ned Kelly displays common thematic preoccupations, consistent with the antipodal position of Australian national cinema, as a medium-sized English language cinema. This truly international production of an Australian myth is fraught with cultural negotiation due to similarity between other national histories and legends and their mainstream filmic depictions. These pre-existing forms would have no doubt figured in the calculations of the financiers to the movie, with the international audience as their target. The nostalgic and romantic popular portrayal of the story is indicative of economic necessity with respect to its large budget. Historical accuracy and Australian cultural significance are disregarded for popular, fictional Hollywood themes, resulting in unequal cultural exchanges.
Gibson, R. ãThe Nature of a Nation.ä South of the West: Post-colonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1992, p 73.
Hutak, M. The Bulletin (18/02/2003) (Accessed 5/5/2003)
Maher, S. ãABA Conference Paper, 2001ä http://www.aba.gov.au/abanews/conf/2001/pdfrtf/Maher.rtf (Accessed 6/5/2003)
OâRegan, T. ãA Medium Sized English Language Cinemaä, Australian National Cinema. London: Routledge, 1996, Ch 4, p 92.
OâRegan, T. ãNegotiating Cultural Transfersä, Australian National Cinema. London: Routledge, 1996, Ch 9, p 218.
Venkatasawmy, R. ãTheorising the Hybridity of Australian Filmmaking: Existing Sitesä, Honours Thesis, Chapter 2, Reader.