H231 Australian Cinema: Critical Review and Bibliography
Part 1: Film Information
Director: Clinton Smith
Writer: Peter Buckmaster
Production Company: Living Motion Pictures and The South Australian Film Corporation
Executive Producer: Jonathan Shteinman
Producer: Emile Sherman
Cast: Simon Lyndon
Duration: 97 mins
There is not allot written about this film. This is probably due to its poor critical uptake that will be discussed later. There are a few reviews available but I was unable to find any critical essays or interviews with any one involved in the film. The lack of material probably has something to do with the movies lack of substance and originality, which would make it difficult to critically discuss in an academic article. I did come across a link to what was supposedly the films official website at http://www.samplepeople.com (do not follow this link) however this turned out to be an adult site complete with lots of pop-up windows to other such sites. I eventually had to shut down my computer to get rid of them all.
Links to online reviews:
http://www.aufs.org/reviews/film/sample.htm - AUFS Review
Guardian Unlimited Friday Review
http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/film/s130637.htm - Triple J Film Review (Warning: do not follow the link to the films official website)
Part 2 – Critical Review of the Film and its Literature
The film Sample People is the story of twelve characters that inhabit inner city Sydney. The storylines for each character eventually see them all collide in an attempted Kebab Shop robbery at the end of the film. Kylie Minogue plays Jess tattooed, cocaine taking gangsters girlfriend who teams up with tough guy Andy (Simon Lyndon) to rip of her ultra violent boyfriend TT. When wannabe gangster Joey gets himself a gun we know it is only a matter of time before him and his mate Gus get themselves in a whole lot of trouble. Meanwhile the shy stuttering Kebab shop worker, Len, struggles to get up the courage to ask for the night off so he can go and hook up with DJ Lush Puppy. While panel van dwelling Sem is trying to convince his girlfriend Cleo to go bush with him and leave behind the city and its clubs and drugs and hopefully ditch weirdo tag along John (Ben Mendelson) in the process.
Sample People attempts to ride on the success of such films as Human Traffic and Go. It seems too annoyingly similar yet totally inferior to both these films. The sub text under the films title reads, "48 hours of Clubs Chaos and Kebabs." While Human Traffic's sub text reads, "48 hours of pubs, clubs and drugs." The stylistic features of Human Traffic seem to have found there way into Sample People as well. The background sound (it might be music) heard during the films monologues and dream sequences seem almost identical to that heard on Human Traffic. The dream sequences themselves are also lifted straight from Traffic. If you haven't seen Sample People imagine Human Traffic crossed with Go then remove cultural insight, humour and originality, set in Sydney and add Kylie Minougue.
Apart from lack of originality and humour the films major failing is in its characters. While a couple of the characters are well developed and interesting most are shallow and underdeveloped. Kebab Shop owner Phil stands out amongst the films mediocre cast as a sort of Karate Kid Mr. Meagi type character. The unbalanced wannabe gangster Joey is probably the only other character, in my opinion, worth mentioning. Some critics praised Ben Mendelsohn's performance as camp, weirdo tag alone John however just as many criticised it. I would suggest it wasn't Mendelsohn's acting that is been criticised as much as the script itself.
As far as the films place in Australian Cinema its closest relative is probably Two Hands. Certain similarities to the film Angst are also present. Sample People continues a thematic tradition of Australian cinema. That is the idea that their physical environment traps the films characters. This theme is common in Australian cinema in films such as Beneath Clouds, Idiot Box, Muriel's Wedding and many others. However Sample People takes this theme to an inner city setting, something that is rarely seen in Australian cinema. This is where similarities to Angst, also set in Kings Cross come into play.
Sample People appears to be an attempt to make an Australian Gen X film. This relatively new genre of films includes the previously mentioned Human Traffic and Go as well as others such as Trainspotting, Run Loa Run and Pulp Fiction. One of the notable features of this genre (if you can call it that) is the stylistic features that are similar to music video clips. This can be seen in all of the films just mentioned, most obviously in Run Lola Run. This has some significance to the way the film is viewed. The story, plot and character development take a back seat to soundtrack and visuals. If you keep this mind when watching Sample People you may be more inclined to enjoy the film. It is the kind of movie you watch without thinking. Let it wash over you, enjoy the soundtrack and visuals without getting to concerned about details like plot and characters and you might enjoy it. In other words watch it like a music video clip.
The film seems to ignore the usual trajectories of Australian Cinema. As a Medium sized English language cinema Australian cinema usually avoids anything Hollywood is doing and instead concentrates on filling any gaps left by Hollywood cinema. This allows Australian cinema to get international attention by deliberately avoiding direct competition with Hollywood (O'Regan 1996). This idea appears to have been discarded by Sample People, which seems to deal with a very Hollywood style plot line and genre. This may well be a controversial view as many see the film as a sort of art house film about rave culture. I however disagree with this view and would categorise Sample People along with films like Go and Pulp Fiction. What I have called Gen X cinema seems at the moment to be highly popular and fast growing and because of this Hollywood has jumped on it. All though occasionally an Australian film does effectively compete with Hollywood (Mad Max, The Man From Snowy River) most of the time any attempt at competition results in failure as is the case with Sample People.
The critics did not like Sample People. It seemed to rate average at best in its reviews. The reasons for this where lack of originality, insight and character development. However one critic from Guardian Unlimited just seemed to hate it based on its Gen X cinema status. "Rave culture and film have never sat well together and this film makes 90 minutes seem like three hours."(www.guardian.co.uk) Other critics were slightly kinder although all were quick to attack Kylie Minogue's performance. Triple J's Megan Spencer stating that she should never be allowed near a film set. Megan Spencer best sums up the film with her statement, "A poster Movie for the Ritlin Generation." (www.abc.net.au/triplej) I have to say that although I recognise the films many failings I still enjoyed watching it. It provides entertainment but sadly not much else.