Tuesday, August 12, 2008

MIFF Roundup 5 - Final Wrap


This film is one in a long list of 70s and 80s outings dramatising the encounter between the urbanised white Aussie and the terrifying Australian bush. It's filled with a dread of everything ‘natural’ - every plant, animal and crashing ocean wave generates a free-floating fear which could at any time wreak havoc on the two all-too-human bodies which find themselves adrift in a coastal hell. It also features an exciting scene in which a guy gets attacked by a possum. It's not the greatest film I've ever seen.

I can heartily recommend Long Weekend to any fan of Australian cinema or the rural thriller, however. It's a tense, weird movie with lots of animal attacks and unexpected human brutality and long shots of the bush accompanied by ear-splitting abuses of a synthesiser. Post-60s cinema was rife with films that corrected earlier images of rural utopianism. Where once you might have grown up wishing you'd been born and abandoned in a paddock to be raised by wombats or suckled by a dugong, these films pointed out how horrific the countryside could appear to city-slickers with quaint notions of pastoral simplicity. In these films, heading up country for some R&R usually ended up in death, mutilation, rape or plain old getting eaten. It's there in Mad Max, The Cars That Ate Paris, Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock and so on and so forth. The US was doing the same thing at the same time with any number of slasher films featuring dumb kids going to summer camp and taking up the local nutter's invitation to come round for shish kebab Friday.

Long Weekend recreates the uncanny, badly plotted atmosphere of a 70s slasher but turns out to be something different. There are plenty of scenes where assistant directors are clearly throwing bored seagulls at the cast and it's hardly Hitchcock when a wombat plods past the camera to the tune of some screeching horror soundtrack, but this is one of those numbers that works pretty well regardless of any technical deficiencies. It's a beautifully shot rendering of coastal Australia that asks "Where the bloody hell are you?" and provides answers in the same vein.


My last MIFF film this year was probably the best – another Ozploitation number, it’s pretty much (spoiler alert) the best Australian film ever made. Well, that might be going a bit far but it’s a long way from the crap that’s dominated our industry for the past decade. It’s (very) loosely adapted from a Peter Carey short story which I took a look at yesterday. Nice story, not much like the film.

The movie follows a weedy guy called Crabs in a nihilistic 80s punk future who finds himself trapped in a drive-in filled with no-hoper junkies and new wave trash and Wilbur Wilde. The government keeps these rabble fed, boozed up and entertained with rubbish movies (in fact they’re all the other films by the dude who directed this one!) while denying escape with electric fences and corrupt machinegun-toting cops. Crabs kind of gets bummed out by the whole forced imprisonment vibe and determines to do a Steve McQueen before discovering that one of his biggest obstacles comes from inside the compound – it turns out that these losers have all grown to love their imprisonment! And then the movie hits you over the head with a metaphor hammer that yells “The drive-in is AUSTRALIA!” Despite the obviousness of the film’s subtext it’s still a great movie that has you thinking a little bit afterwards and wondering if the soundtrack was ever released (on LP and cassette, probably).

The design of the film is truly stunning in a hilarious retro way – it’s like Dogs in Space turned up to 11. Everyone is dressed to the hilt in outrageous get-ups, every surface is covered in graffiti and burning tyres and battered chrome fittings, and everything suggests a huge budget has been thrown at a film that wouldn’t even get off the ground today. I laughed out loud at some of the dialogue – especially when Crabs’ huge boss Frank starts doing a few reps with a barbell then looks at his massive guns and says in all seriousness “Fuck it, I’m big enough”. And what other film ends with a blazing truck driving off a ramp into a huge neon sign to accompanying explosions and a protagonist yelling “BEWDY!” Only in Oz.

No comments: