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Embracing Australia on Screen

Now that I’ve settled into a more permanent routine here, I’m starting to relax and develop my yearning for various Australian things I couldn’t afford before. Despite my promise to myself that I would no longer hoard stuff, I’m managing to gather quite a lot of things in my little cottage. I’ve always been a buyer of books and DVDs, and while I have eased off on the books to a certain extent, I’m being quite extravagant in my collecting of movies and TV series.

I’ve always enjoyed quirky, off-beat films, be they art films, foreign films or just those more generally found at film festivals. Going back in time to when I was a drama student, my greatest escape each week was to buy a student-price ticket to an afternoon movie and sit in an almost empty movie house, enjoying what was on the screen.

A film society on campus had once-a-week screenings of classics old and new. In fact, the first time I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock was in the old science lecture hall. The film was a grainy 16mm version and the sound was so bad that none of us knew what was going on, but we loved it all the more for the deeper mystery it presented.

This genuine love of Australian films began long before I ever knew I would one day live here. Over time, film festivals in the various theatres in which I worked in South Africa afforded me the chance to see wonderful Australian offerings, such as the harrowing Belinda (known in the US as Midnight Dancer), Toni Collette’s heart-wrenching performance in Japanese Story, the very first screening in South Africa of Moulin Rouge, and a poignant but uplifting film called Look Both Ways. This last was directed by the late Sarah Watt and starred her husband, William McInnes, a well-known Australian actor who still lives locally in Melbourne and writes books, alongside his successful acting career.

Apart from the Aussie movies that made it to the big time in the wider world, like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Castle, Muriel’s Wedding and Australia, I was able – thanks to Amazon – to discover some lesser known gems from this part of the world. I splashed out and ordered Cosi, Gettin’ Square, You Can’t Stop the Murders and even the chilling The Boys. Well worth the prohibitive cost of postage to South Africa!

Director Peter Weir – in addition to the aforementioned Picnic at Hanging Rock – also wowed me with such classics as Gallipoli, Mosquito Coast and Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, while Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet had me shrieking with delight at his brilliance long before I ever saw Strictly Ballroom, and before he presented the ground-breaking Moulin Rouge to a larger world audience.

Since I arrived in Australia to live, I’ve watched and loved even richer Australian screen magic. Both the quirky The Dressmaker and Russell Crowe’s directorial debut The Water Diviner moved me to tears, while Ladies in Black sent me on a nostalgia trip back to the 1950s.

I’ve also been lucky enough to pick up other Australian classics such as Lantana, Jindabyne, Storm Boy and Paperback Hero, which I call a classic because it features a very young and not-yet-famous Hugh Jackman.

Another young and not-yet-famous favourite actor, Russell Crowe, features in The Sum of Us. Not all movies set in Australia are made exclusively here, but many Australian actors, such as Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush, can be found in a number of movies, including the story of Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly.

I’ve re-visited the phenomenally successful 1978 television series Against the Wind, based on the true stories of convict labourers from the early 1800s. More recently, Every Cloud Productions took Kerry Greenwood’s successful Phryne Fisher novels and produced three excellent seasons called Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. A full-length feature film has been made and will be released early in 2020. I can’t wait to see it (and buy it).

Inevitably, now that I’ve been here for more than four years, my viewing has extended beyond fiction, into the wonderful world of documentaries about Australia. I recently found a three-part series called Outback, about life in the vast and beautiful Kimberley area.

Just a few weeks ago, I discovered all three seasons of the BBC’s Coast Australia. I’m not ashamed to admit that I binge-watched all of them, and I’m looking forward to re-watching them as I learn more about this vast country of contrasts and magnificent scenery.

I think it might be time to take another road trip, too…