To speak of the work of Charles Chauvel in the fifties would usually be a matter of discussing his one feature completed during the period, Jedda (Charles Chauvel Productions, 1955). To this discussion might be appended observations regarding the lamentable situation of the most prominent Australian director still active in the film industry being restricted to bringing to completion a single feature in the last decade of his life. For, even considering Chauvel's numerically limited output across the thirty-four years of his production career, there is no comparably "barren" period as that of the years 1950-1959. From this implications might be drawn that, as the industry moved "into the void" [note 1] even the indomitable independent voice of Australian nationalism in the cinema had been muted by those forces - the hegemony of American distribution companies, foreign controlling interests in the Australian exhibition duopoly - that had contributed decisively to making Australia such an intractable market in which to produce films. Viewed from a certain position, [note 2] there is a compelling verity to this scenario. However, if we shift the angle of incidence to the material in such a way as to bracket the assumption that only indigenous backing and production of features constitutes an "Australian" cinema, different emphases can be imagined. [note 3] Chauvel's major thirteen-part TV series for the BBC, Walkabout, completed in 1959, rarely if ever discussed in surveys of his work, surfaces as a significant continuation of his career-long quasi-documentary commitments. Such "quasi-documentary" concerns, evident in Jedda as interestingly as in Walkabout, further suggests a misreading on the part of propagators of the documentary aesthetic in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s such as Harry Watt and John Heyer, prepared as they were to write off the feature tradition for a lack of engagement with a documentary "vision" of the country. The extent to which Chauvel's projected as well as completed work in the 1950s was based on international co-production models of financial backing and American branch-office distribution support might require a reassessment of the "indomitable nationalist" at odds with a distribution-exhibition nexus utterly unsympathetic to indigenous production. And, in considering the highly idiosyncratic features of Jedda - in casting protocols, argument, and mise-en-scene, to say nothing of its epic production history - one might wonder how such a film was made at the time, intractable conditions or not.
A detailed study of the production career of Chauvel [note 4] suggests a chronological breakdown into three phases along the axes of "authorship" and "independence". This is justifiable if the ultimate purpose of a study of Chauvel, within which an article such as this can contribute an historically circumscribed slice, is to relate an historically specific and variable mode of production to an equally distinctive, though variable film style. In order to do this, we can displace the ahistorical notion of "auteurism" still powerfully operative in film studies, with the notion of the "biographical legend". David Bordwell, in his study of Dreyer, outlines this approach:
For our purposes ... the standard career accounts will not suffice. Understanding cinematic form in history should not rest upon biography intimate, unauthorised or otherwise. Instead, the most fruitful conception of authorship will be the "biographical legend". Boris Tomashevsky writes: "The biography that is useful to the literary historian is not the author's curriculum vitae or the investigator's account of his life. What the literary historian really needs is the biographical legend created by the author himself. Only such a legend is a literary fact. Similarly, we can situate a filmmaker's work in a film history by studying the personae created by the artist in his public pronouncements, in his writings, and in his dealings with the film industry.... However subjective, even self-centred, such a legend may appear, that legend has an objective function in a historical situation. The biographical legend may justify production decisions and even create a spontaneous theory of the artist's practice. More important, the biographical legend is a way in which authorship significantly shapes our perception of the work. [note 5]This approach has considerable implications for a study of Chauvel. We must attend to the historical construction of the biographical legend and then to its deployment and functioning within the industry. To do this, we must also disengage the notion of "independence" from its cultural nationalist moorings in Australian film history, as a category guaranteeing both a certain distance from a "tainted" distribution-exhibition nexus and a greater cultural exactitude for film style and meaning. Logically, then, we must also relate Chauvel's filmmaking in the 1950s to "historical background sets" [note 6] most salient to them - classic Hollywood cinema and the strands of documentary and travelogue that had been placed on the agenda of the Australian cinema by the 1950s. [note 7]
The first phase of Chauvel's production career, then, up to 1933, was a period of independence that was based upon a marginality in relation to the industry and an entrepreneurial individualism that produced, for instance, relatively compliant evidence before the 1927-28 Royal Commission which was at odds with the majority of producers' evidence. The second, to the end of the war, was characterised by the developing construction of the biographical legend together with Chauvel's concerted attempts to form industrial alliances in the areas of both production and distribution. This period also, and relatedly, saw Chauvel taking on roles as lobbyist and public spokesman for production interests in the industry. The third, covering the post-war period to Chauvel's death in 1959, was characterised, like the first phase, by a strongly independent stance that was nevertheless significantly different insofar as such independence was strengthened by the consolidation and deployment of the biographical legend.
In the wake of the monumental Sons of Matthew (1949), which, after initial anxieties about its international impact, brought in a reasonable profit, Chauvel began his last decade as the most prominent active Australian director in a very small and sporadic production sector. At Universal Studios during his fourth major (eight-month) stay in Hollywood, in 1949, Chauvel had explored possibilities of a directorial contract. Here McIntyre also reported that an Ealing representative in Australia, Bunny Williams, had expressed interest in Chauvel. [note 8] As was characteristic for all Chauvel productions, a considerable body of trade paper (Film Weekly, Australian Exhibitor), fan magazine (Photoplayer), and women's magazine (Pix, Women's Day) and newspaper publicity had been generated around Sons of Matthew. Of particular interest was the way in which the filmmaking "family'' of Charles and Elsa Chauvel was billed alongside the O'Riordan family of the film in one piece entitled "Our No. 1 Film Family". [note 9] Josephine O'Neill, the longest-serving newspaper film critic of the time, wrote a fulsome letter of praise to the Chauvels at this moment in their careers, signalling Sons of Matthew as a sort of summation of their work. [note 10]
Chauvel, however, was typically involved, or his name was being invoked, on a number of fronts in projections for further production and in lobbying in response to yet another feature film downturn. In an early stage of planning for what was to become Kenhall Productions' projected major feature Robbery Under Arms, Chauvel had been included in a notional "master company" that was to involve both Hall and Chauvel in such a joint production venture. This had been proposed by Charles Munro, formerly Managing Director of Hoyts when Hoyts had contributed to financing Rats of Tobruk (1944), but by 1950 in control of a large independent theatre circuit. [note 11] Chauvel was also a participant in the Film Producers' Association of Australia which, at the time, saw the expanding and innovative documentary work of the Film Division of the Department of Information as a potential incursion into private-sector "territory" and lobbied to have the unit's operations scaled down. [note 12] During this time Chauvel also had himself installed as "production supervisor" at Avondale Studios, at which he was to shoot interiors for Jedda in late 1953. This arrangement was to mutual advantage, if we are to take note of the studio's publicity material: "Avondale Studios are fortunate in having the internationally famous film producer Charles Chauvel as adviser to production". [note 13]
Elsa Chauvel told the story of the genesis of Jedda arising from a challenge from American journalists in 1948 to make a film indisputably Australian, that is, about Australian Aborigines. [note 14] We can therefore speak of a production history, from conception to release, across six years. For the most part, the early years of this period were occupied with the necessity to form a public company, similar in structure to Expeditionary Films Ltd. (1933), Chauvel's production company for Heritage (1935) and Uncivilised (1936). In so doing, Chauvel was reverting to a finance-generating model that had lapsed since the late 1930s in his production career. The production companies under whose names Forty Thousand Horseman (1940, Famous Feature Films) and Rats of Tobruk (1944, Chamun Productions) were released were skeletal structures whose main function was the furnishing of a legal entity with which distribution, exhibition, government and other related bodies could contract in order to underwrite the films in question. Sons of Matthew was produced by Chauvel for Greater Union and Universal without the intermediate existence of a constituted "independent" production company. However, Norman Rydge of Greater Union had been definitively turned away from local production, a good reason for which, in some accounts, being the cost and production overruns on Sons of Matthew. [note 15] Even Chauvel's most consistent financial and distribution support since the early 1930s, Universal, was not prepared to consider Jedda, so radical was the project. [note 16]
Chauvel thus established Charles Chauvel Productions Ltd., a public company issuing shares and listed on the NSW and Queensland stock markets. It was incorporated in NSW on 21 March 1951 and issued its prospectus on 14 August l951. [note 17] Most of the funds to produce Jedda came, in this way, from public subscription, with the film's eventual distributor, Columbia Pictures, contributing post production financing. [note 18]
It differed in significant respects, however, from the model of Expeditionary Films. Under the latter, of which Chauvel was its principal contracted employee (and this contractual relationship between the company and its producer contributed to many problems for both parties by the late 1930s), Chauvel was Managing Director of Charles Chauvel Productions, with Conrad Horley, a Sydney company director, as Chairman. (The other directors were Elsa Chauvel, another Sydney businessman, William Lee, John Julian, grazier, and Phil Budden of Commonwealth Film Laboratories.) In this strict sense, this company was the first of Chauvel's that was his "own". [note 19] The company also differed from most film companies in the 1950s insofar as it successfully manoeuvred around a prohibition preventing public companies raising capital of more than £10,000. In mid-1951 the Capital Issues Board of the Department of National Development in the Menzies government, attempting to curb inflation, prohibited public companies in "non-essential" industries raising speculative capital beyond this amount. This prohibition adversely affected Kenhall Productions and the early production plans of Chips Rafferty and Lee Robinson. The specifics of how Chauvel managed to secure an exemption from the Capital Issues edict remain obscure; what is circumstantially salient, however, is the extent of Chauvel's long-term lobbying for various governments' support for the project together with his repeated invocation of its national importance. This is clear in his strategic addresses to the Native Affairs Branch of the Northern Territory Administration, to the Premier and Chief Secretary's Department in Queensland, and to the Federal government requesting logistical and technical support for a film with the potential to receive "world wide acclaim". And he met with reasonable success, particularly in the light of the general miasma into which prospects for Australian production had fallen in the early 1950s. He received a petrol ration and further technical assistance from the Federal government, together with the latter's provision of a Delivery Bond underwriting Chauvel's contract with the American suppliers of his preferred Gevacolor film stock for Jedda. [note 20]
The new company was also represented in its prospectus and in publicity as being the "exception" in relation to the "poor and brief histories of many Australian film ventures. An exception, based heavily on the post-1930s successes of Chauvel, that could "establish itself as a permanent Australian film enterprise. [note 24] The emphasis in the company's prospectus is resolutely centred on the Chauvel "biographical legend" this constitutes a major difference from the formal presentations of the operations of Expeditionary Films in the 1930s:
The company has been established primarily for the purpose of implementing a policy of continuous production of first class motion pictures in this country, concentrating upon highly specialised productions ie., with the accent on strong world wide sales appeal and written in relation to areas previously well "charted" for the work...This opinion is supported by the encouraging results obtained by the three outstanding pictures which have already been produced by Mr Chauvel. These pictures have found overseas markets and have proved very profitable investments to their sponsors. The method of production in each of these films has been to feature a subject rather than personalities, consequently inflation of costs as a result of high star salaries has been avoided and production costs have been kept at a comparatively low level.[note 25]The basic contours of the legend are deployed throughout the "national importance" as well as international appeal inherent in the documenting of "Australia's immense northern areas"; the Chauvel name as central in attracting major distribution and exhibition interests, government support, and the commitment of superior technicians; and the established stylistic/generic "difference" offered by the Chauvel signature. Characteristically, Chauvel (the thematic and rhetorical regularities holding between this prospectus and several of Chauvel's statements of intent indicate that he would have substantially authored it) aligns an element of the biographical legend - of the "pooh-bah" executing several aspects of film production at once - with currently emerging Hollywood practices and simultaneously converts that, which at times was a considerable drawback in his production career, into a rhetorical "good". The prospectus draws attention to what Janet Staiger has called the "package unit system of production, emergent in the 1940s and a major characteristic of Hollywood production by the 1950s, wherein "one qualified man acts as a writer producer, writer-director or perhaps all three", and argues that similar advantages are gained through Charles Chauvel Productions having "the services of a well-established writing, producing and directing team, namely the Chauvels. [note 26]
This was the company that was to "build an industry". [note 27] From this, in principle, strong position, Chauvel criticised Ealing's closure of Pagewood Studios and expressed interest in attempting to take the studio over. This certainly would have been in keeping with certain plans foreshadowed by Chauvel at meetings of the Board of Directors of Charles Chauvel Productions. [note 28]
The details of the planning and filming of Jedda are well documented, indeed they formed an integral part, for Australian films in this period of feature-making "die-back", of the massive promotional discourse leading and subsequent to its eventual release in 1955. [note 29] The promotional material is replete with the elements of the achieved "biographical legend": Chauvel the established producer of quality films, scorning "quickies", Jedda a film "only Australia could give the world", the national and industrial significance of a film which "has restored confidence in a vision of a permanent local film production industry", the production of a "thrilling story of almost insurmountable obstacles courageously overcome". It presents a strategic image of an industry - exhibition, distribution, laboratory and technical services, the trade papers - united around a "really BIG Australian picture". [note 30] Promotional discourse, by definition, will attempt to "talk up" its product; what is unusual in this instance is the rarity of its occurrence for a local production and the extent of, and confidence in, its presentation cohering around the Chauvel name. Given the conception, casting, production history and cost of Jedda, it is indisputable that such a project would never have been completed without the industrial valence bearing on the Chauvel biographical legend.
It is also arguable that Jedda was a "limit case", an exceptionally severe test, for the industrial efficiency of the legend. Scouting locations and casting occupied several months between early 1952 and July 1953. Shooting on several locations in central and northern Australia took five months, from July to November 1953. Retakes, interiors and some editing at Avondale Studios in Sydney, and the sound mix, colour processing and final editing at Denham Studios in London occupied most of 1954. Even for Chauvel, with his "legendary" record of epic production schedules, Jedda was prohibitively lengthy in gestation. There were the inevitable budget overruns, the main causes of which, according to Elsa Chauvel, were the processing arrangements for the Gevacolor stock and the time taken to coach "untrained and primitive aborigines". [note 31] As with Sons of Matthew, Chauvel's financial! directors were greatly perturbed by the cost and time involved. [note 32] The conception of a major feature explicitly devoted to "issues" of race relations, starring untrained Aboriginal actors, to be filmed according to what even for Chauvel were severely "purist" protocols of location shooting, using colour stock largely-untested in Australian conditions for the first time on a feature production: these were "fantastic" ideas which bemused potential backers, flushed out widespread antipathy to Aborigines and brought to bear the industry dictum that racial representations were box-office "poison". [note 33]
With Jedda, Chauvel took the practice of "locationism" to its furthest extent in his career. As I have argued elsewhere [note 34] , "locationism" is an apposite term to describe the intense commitment on Chauvel's part, notwithstanding the massive technical and financial obstacles, to location shooting without implying that this commitment amounted to a coherent sense of its relation to, and difference from, a documentary aesthetic. Locationism engages both with Chauvel's nationalist project of making "Australia a film star", [note 35] and with his industrial stance of independence, given that such production protocols made him for better and worse, a singular figure within the industry from the early thirties. It also was the major means by which Chauvel negotiated stylistic difference within the established protocols of classical narrative cinema. As is clear from examination of Chauvel's scripting practices and promotional discourses, [note 36] there is a reversal of the standard sequencing of pre-production (actor(s) (if star vehicle) -> story and character -> locations ). For Jedda, as with several other film projects, the Chauvels reconnoitred the Northern Territory "in search of a story". Their self-representations were those of producers open to the drama inherent in the locations: picking up "a theme in Wyndham", collecting stories "there and everywhere", finally weaving them into "a story of the Territory". [note 37] The reversal of hierarchy is summed up by Chauvel in the souvenir booklet published by Columbia for Jedda, where he speaks of developing a story to "match the magnificent backgrounds", and then of finding "people", who, acting out their social roles, would "portray the story properly". [note 38] The implications of this reversal, or stylistic difference, will be taken up later.
There are further registrations, of what might appropriately be termed "quasi-documentarism", in the circulation of discourses around Jedda. As is clear from earlier drafts of the film's screenplay, the Chauvels had originally planned a more complex "documentarist" opening narration than finally is placed in the film. [note 39] The opening title of the film declares that:
To cast this picture the producer went to the primitive Aboriginee (sic) race of Australia and now introduces NARLA (sic) KUNOTH as Jedda, a girl of the Arunta tribe and ROBERT TUDEWALLI (sic), a man of the Tiwi tribe as Marbuk. In this film many people of the Northern Territory of Australia are reliving their roles. The story of Jedda is founded on fact.
And indeed, apart from the professional actors who play the McMahons and Joe, the half-caste narrator and "jilted" sweetheart of Jedda, and the more complex and central roles of Jedda and Marbuk to be discussed later, the cast is composed of social actors, "playing themselves": [note 40] Wason Byers, a "legendary" Territorian, as Felix Romeo, and Tas Fitzer, an equally well-known member of the Territory Mounted Police (who was involved in the "real" case of a black wanted for stealing station women on which the character of Marbuk was based) as Peter Wallis.
There is also a correlative level of "ethnographic" or "anthropological" documentarism that, along with this notion of social typage, circulated widely in the presentation and reception of Jedda. Isadore Goodman prepared a musical score whose ethnographic credentials were impeccably based on A.P. Elkin's recordings of Aboriginal music. [note 41] Bill Harney, credited with "Research" on the film, advised on correct representations of Aboriginal custom, gesture, and decoration. There is also evidence that Chauvel had examined closely the contemporary interrelations holding between ethnographic study of and policy pertaining to Aboriginal culture: an unsourced document in Chauvel's papers sets out the "subjects for films" in a documentary mode covering the differing cultural structure of the "tribal natures" on reserves, in pastoral districts, in towns and settlements, and the situation of "part-aborigines". [note 42] This document shows the influence or awareness of Elkin's anthropological work and policy arguments. Elkin at this time, from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s, was at the height of his powers and influence. [note 43] Considering this, the high profile and vigorously policy-oriented anthropological studies of the Berndts, Beckett and Stanner during this period and the inauguration of "assimilation" as official Commonwealth policy in 1951, the "moment" of Jedda was one of considerable ferment in theories of cultural contact. [note 44]
This moment was one with which Jedda intriguingly attempted to engage. Considered together, these elements constitute a formidable body of quasi-documentary concerns that informed the contemporaneous promotion and reception of the film and must inform any proper historical reading from a later vantage point. The film was certainly taken both as a major, and for some reviewers the major, exercise in "locationism" in Australian film and as a serious presentation of policy issues. [note 45]
However, as I have argued elsewhere, [note 46] it is not a question, when considering the textual dynamics of Chauvel's films, of setting quasi-documentarism and locationism against elements of narrativisation, dramatisation and performance, thus allowing for approbation of the former while excoriating or finding reasons for special pleading for the latter. In the case of Jedda, and several other films of Chauvel, this "formidable" body of quasi-documentarist, locationist, and ethnographic concerns establishes the grounds for a negotiated difference within the regimes of classical narrative cinema. Indeed, one of the most intriguing aspects of this film's history in relation to the Chauvel oeuvre is the way in which it was able to operate as both a "big box-office" commercial narrative and, internationally, as an "unusual documentary-type drama ... [as] offbeat fare best suited to the art houses", [note 47] as the first Australian film to be invited to the Cannes festival. [note 48]
Consider the dynamics of this "negotiated difference". As analysts such as Bill Routt and Bruce Molloy [note 49] and the several reviewers assessing the film's merits as social commentary have done, Jedda could be constructed as a type of film "essay". It is also, together with Sons of Matthew, one of Chauvel's most elegant narratives exhibiting many of the textual characteristics of "classical" Hollywood cinema. At the most global narrative level, the relation in Jedda between these two typically opposed textual generalities is of the film's essayistic and policy oriented "argument" being fundamentally narrativised: displaced into character, performance, mise-en-scene, and narrative process. Thus, while it is pertinent to consider the generic juxtaposition of the film falling "readily into two halves", the one didactic essay on the imponderables of assimilationism, the other focusing on the "tension of the chase" with the landscape becoming a "significant part of the entertainment" [note 50] equal stress should be placed on Chauvel's relative mastery, in his last feature, of his notoriously unruly diegesis, without in the least minimising the productive "strangeness" of the film.
While Chauvel might, characteristically, have held to a radically utopian vision of assimilationism based on the subsumption of difference through intermarriage, [note 51] this only registers in a weak sense in Jedda in the failed romance between Joe and Jedda. What happens, instead, is the systematic staging of conflicting positions that reflects a desire on Chauvel's part to document and narrativise a full range of Aboriginal cultural spaces as outlined in the research document "The Tribal Natures and the Reserves". [note 52] The precipitate of this process in the film appears as an attempt to prevent the suturing of the "wound" of race relations, to maintain the disparity and inadequacy of both central positions - the crude versions of assimilationism and of cultural integrity espoused by Sarah and Doug McMahon respectively: thus a similar kind of anti-liberal, anti-conservative stance as that adopted by the next major Australian feature to "treat the wound" (twenty-three years later!), The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. [note 53]
The very crudity of the positions and the way they are narrativised maximises the melodramatic force of Jedda and constitutes in large measure the distinctive authorial signature in the film. Sarah's "assimilationist" position, actually more of an admixture of nineteenth-century views of the white burden to "civilise" the lower races, [note 54] is articulated through character and performance in the tradition of forties and fifties Hollywood family melodrama. The position is thus hystericised: the moral purity of Sarah's assumed burden articulated as a displacement of sexual and reproductive barrenness. As Carry (Jane Wyman in All That Heaven Allows) got her TV set, so Sarah got her little Jedda bird! Doug's "cultural integrity" or "benevolent apartheid" position is similarly "compromised" by its being articulated as a self-interested response to the need for reliable and compliant labour in his niche of the pastoral industry. [note 55] The white patriarchal order of things, represented by Doug ("We all have our pride, Sarah, you in your home, me in my work, and these people in that once-a-year time when they become 'big fella man'") is bracketed out of the narrative world of Jedda, as it is in such Hollywood "women's" films and family melodramas as The Reckless Moment and Meet Me in St. Louis. [note 56] Doug is not there when Sarah loses her baby, cannot grasp the force of the displacement of Sarah's maternality onto Jedda, is rebuffed when he downplays the tragedy of the loss (Doug: "There's always tomorrow. There'll be others." Sarah: "No, never again") and his tidy order is challenged and broken by the transgressive libidinal and cultural "purity" of Marbuk.
Both the logic and the inadequacy of Sarah's and Doug's positions are borne out across the second half of the film. (Indeed, in one of Jedda's economic narrative ironies, it is the McMahons who, when they take Jedda on the buffalo shoot, chaperone her to the border of the white world, rendering her vulnerable to Marbuk's "call".) However, such an essayistic reworking of positions is itself over-determined by the rendering of Marbuk as a criminal in both white and black worlds. Elegantly necessary within the dramatic structure, this nevertheless displaces argument into a more "classical" generic chase register.
However, the second half of the film is hardly uniformly classical in its register. It is remarkably slow-paced for a "flight and chase" sub-narrative. It is constantly placed within locationist showcasing of scenic grandeur the dramatised spectacle of racial alterity thus doubled by the documentarist spectacle of topographical alterity. It is also intercut with the lineaments of the Jedda-Marbuk "romance: overpowering Lawrencian seduction, consummation and dissolution sequences which perversely "twin" the chaste fantasies and staging of the Jedda-Joe romance. (Compare the sequence of Jedda-Joe lying together on the river bank and Jedda-Marbuk in the cave.) Again, such perverse twinning is strongly reminiscent of the juxtaposition of non-negotiably distinct cultural and sexual spaces in family melodramas such as Some Came Running, The Bad and the Beautiful or Written in the Wind. It also leads the film to the limits of its desire to narrativise the full range of the black "condition: to the "other scene" of Marbuk's tribe placed "nowhere" in the film's barely realised notion of a Hidden City. Here, we have the "prosperous nomads" [note 57] position which twins the circumscribed cultural space of Doug McMahon's station hands.
However, the crux of the film's negotiated difference within cinematic classicism and, indeed, its strange radicality, is the representation of the central characters - Jedda and Marbuk. In a process of "revolutionary casting" that is nevertheless reminiscent of the methods of "social typage" characteristic of Longford and Lyell's silent classics, [note 58] the Chauvels scoured northern Australia looking for social actors capable of embodying their vision of the "drama" of Aboriginal experience. Here, the extremes of ethnographic realism and Hollywood signifying practices meet untrained social actors nevertheless constructed as stars in terms of narrative centrality, composition and spectatorial activity. Indeed, the film's discourse on the black "condition" finally sublates argument within its powerful investment in the mise-en-scene of Aboriginal "stars" Ngarla Kunoth and Robert Tudawali - and their heightened melodramatic performance. "Native" exotica, displayed salaciously and naively for the voyeuristic frisson of a fifties white audience? Yes, if it is equally said that Chauvel dramatises black experience with a force and centrality approached only by Schepisi's Chant in the history of Australian feature filmmaking. For, as Fredric Jameson argues in another context, [note 59] the symptomatic weaknesses of such a film are dialectically, indissolubly, linked to its strengths.
Chauvel was in almost constant negotiation on further film projects during the mid-to-late fifties. Elsa Chauvel has noted that Discifilm, the French production company that went into co-production with Southern International, had first offered Walk into Paradise to Charles as a co-production. Continuing his interests since the early thirties and In the Wake of the Bounty in the South Pacific, he also had plans to do a film treatment of Pomare. [note 61] This interest was later, after the success of Walkabout, about to be taken up with a "South Pacific Walkabout" when he died.
The most sustained and developed, yet unrealised, project, however, was the adaptation on Katherine Glassen Taylor's Wards of the Outer March. Like Chauvel's notion of an adaptation of Ernestine Hill's My Love Must Wait in the late 1940s, this was a return to the historical concerns of Heritage: a treatment of convictism in the colony of New South Wales in the 1830s. 61 It was an "excellent script", worked on over several years, it promised to be Australia's first colour/cinemascope film and was to be produced for Warwick Films in England and Columbia in Australia. [note 62] The scripting negotiations with Warwick Films, however, broke down. A considerably different version scripted by an American was brought out as The Broad Arrow. [note 63] This desultory process is cited by Elsa Chauvel as a characteristic instance of her husband refusing to compromise the nationalist conception of his original script. [note 64]
Walkabout, or Australian Walkabout [note 65] as it was titled for British TV release, was a travelogue-documentary in thirteen half-hours funded by the BBC and screened a number of times in Britain and subsequently on the ABC during and after 1959. The TV series was also accompanied by the publication of the Chauvel's written account of their travels through the Australian outback, Walkabout. [note 66] The genesis of the series lay in an invitation from the BBC to film "a true and faithful recording of the country and the people of our continent, right from one of our large capital cities westwards through the vast lands that have fallen to Australia's lot to develop and populate." [note 67] The invitation came during the latter part of 1954, when the Chauvels were in England for post-production work on Jedda. The filming of the series, involving travels from Sydney west to Broken Hill, to Port Augusta and up through several stops across central Australia, to Darwin and back again, by car, train, and horse, took a full year during 1957-58. Major difficulties were encountered, particularly with sound recording. Elsa Chauvel's memoirs recount the resignation of several technicians from the project; [note 68] a great part of the technical supervision fell to Harry Closter, previously Unit Manager for Jedda and relatively inexperienced in sound recording and cinematography. Post-production involved several months of studio work to "suture" gaps in sound image relations in the series: the editing in of voice-overs covering almost all of the Chauvels' extensive "participant narration" of the programs, together with a large number of strategically placed studio sequences which enabled synch sound direct address as a major organising point of the narratorial exposition. Also, post-production in Australia was overseen by a BBC representative, Alan Sleath, whose role it would have been to ensure that the series functioned effectively within the regimes of the international "adventure-travelogue". The series was a ratings success for the BBC, was repeated twice, and was bought by the ABC. The Chauvels were planning further South Pacific travelogues in the style of Walkabout when Charles died in November 1959.
In one sense, Walkabout can be viewed as a logical extension of the Chauvels' quasi-documentary concerns, which inform the entire filmmaking oeuvre and their industrial stance at an intimate level: "Through the years we have spent filming dramatic screen plays in Australia we have always wanted to film our country factually." [note 69] Such quasi-documentary concerns can be further specified. If a crucial generic and stylistic link can be posited between the popular "descriptive" or "travel" writing of Ion Idriess, Frank Clune, Ernestine Hill and many others of the 1930s and 40s and Chauvel's work, [note 70] then Walkabout undoubtedly establishes the clearest connection. This is very much the way both the book and the TV series were taken up in the reviews:
So readers worn-out from perishes undertaken with Idriess, Clune, Simpson, Lockwood, Cleary, George Farwell, Ernestine Hill, etc., might dismiss lightly the drover cooking chops on a shovel on the road to Broken Hill ... but there must still be many who have never read a book about such country, and for them this book can be recommended as a first-rate, up-to-date vicarious Walkabout. [note 71]
If, however, for Australian if not British audiences, the genre of travel-adventure in the outback had been well traversed, the series was able to promote itself as the first of this kind of travel-adventure to be undertaken "with cameras" and the first Australian colour TV series to be sold overseas. [note 72]
However, to follow this genealogy further, one of the most pertinent and problematic features of the series, one that marks out an important shift between it and the book, lies in the tension between its descriptive-travel writing precedents and its packaging for its primary audience, the British TV market. On the one hand, the book features strongly the history of various events, activities, and traditions covered during the Chauvels "Walkabout" and is able to canvas the stringencies of outback life with greater forthrightness than the TV series does. This places the book squarely within the tradition of descriptive travel writing. On the other hand, the TV series struggles to produce a compelling representation of the rigours of traversal of, and life in, "one of the last frontiers of adventure" even as it is "packaged" as armchair travelogue, overseen by BBC representative, Alan Sleath, who as Elsa Chauvel recalls, "kept us au fait with the "dos and don'ts" of the BBC requirements." [note 73] This may well account for an element of panglossism in the series, carried particularly in the insistent bonhomie of the Chauvels' participant narratorial stance that centrally organises and regulates any entry into this "frontier world" of radical alterity. It certainly accounts for a certain amount of post-production censorship and, probably, self-censorship: there were to be no scenes of killing of animals, and in the only sequence in which dead animals are shown - as a result of drought - the viewer is hustled away from such "horrible scenes" by Elsa Chauvel, here a somewhat apologetic narrator. [note 74]
The series is structured around the westward and northward journeys of the Chauvels, starting from Sydney. Thus, the series is organised geographically, according to their itinerary, into the following episodes: 1. Sydney 2. The Great Divide 3. Outposts 4. The Ghan 5. Droving 6. Coober Pedy 7. Rum Jungle 8. Adelaide River 9. Homesteads 10. Picnic Races 11. Buffalo 12. Alexandria Downs 13. The Last Walkabout. Each program focuses on a particular place, activity, or personality, the presentation of which is organised around an almost entirely non-synch voice-over narration shared between Charles and Elsa. However, this form of narration is in no way comparable to voice-of-God narration typical of most broadcast, educational and theatrical documentary and also differs from the usual forms of diegetic narratorial voice found in standard TV travelogue material. It is reasonable to surmise that the post-production voice-over narration was a compromise occasioned by the poor quality of direct sound able to be produced on location, and that the synch sound studio sequences that introduce and intersperse each episode are a brave attempt to anchor narration in participant characterisation. (These studio sequences, consisting for the most part of presentations of maps to orient viewers to a new location, introductions to and links between locations, and epilogues, have the Chauvels dressed in the same clothes as on location, and feature "proposition, such as the blitz wagon that is their main form of transport across the outback. The sequences are clearly set up to simulate locations.)
Further, the Chauvels do not occupy the position of simply another "particular narrator" in standard travelogue format. From the opening introduction of the Chauvels by Alan Sleath: "those two people you see riding through the bush are Charles and Elsa Chauvel, internationally renowned filmmakers", (Episode 1, "Sydney"), Walkabout contains several references to the achieved "biographical legend". The cinematic biographical legend underpins the idiosyncratically "personalised" mode of address throughout the series. The nature of the filmmaking career authorises the position of authority from which the narration proceeds: the invitation to visit "our" country, as "we" live in and travel through it, and as "we" show it to you. This mode of address is possible to the extent to which filmic representations of Australia are equated with the name of Chauvel.
The representation of the country is thus similarly "personalised." Various large-scale gestures in a standard documentary fashion are made to comparisons between Australian and European, British and American features of geographical scale and developmental achievement the Aborigines are "the oldest tribes in the world", the Snowy Mountains project is "one of the greatest construction works in the world", Arnhem Land is "the largest native protected region in the world", the particular School of the Air covered in Episode 3, "Outposts", covers an area "twice as large as France", and so on. Similarly, the familiar descriptive writers' themes of national development and the obstacles to it are recurrent the constant reference to problems of water supply, the need for adequate defence as Australia "bravely faces Asian, the importance of uranium mining in Rum Jungle feeding into energy industries of the future. However, the heart of the series lies in the diaristic emphasis on small-scale incidents, personalities and dramas which are typically presented as "spontaneous" mini-narratives of discovery. Two of these are worth examining in greater detail to illustrate certain of the more complex representations Walkabout deals in, and because the two constitute the bulk of the series' treatment of the Chauvels' engagement with Aborigines, and this may be compared to Jedda.
The two mini-narratives occur in Episode 9, "Homesteads" and Episode 13, "Last Walkabout". Both arise from the Chauvels going "on Walkabout" with a family of Aborigines: "we want you to know about our primitive Aborigines - so we will go on Walkabout for a day with them." In "Homesteads" while Elsa narrates an encounter with two pubertal black girls and explains the function of arranged marriages in Aboriginal society, Charles learns to make fire under the tutelage of an old man.
The two then - they are in the MacDonnell Ranges area of central Australia, in the region of "famous" Aboriginal painters - set out to find a well known "husband and wife team" of painters, Walter and Kordulia. Walter, an "established" painter, at first resented his wife wanting to take up painting, but he relented, gave her some of his brushes and paints, and now is proud of her work. The body of the episode then follows Elsa's narration of Kordulia's work and life, the theme of which, announced by Elsa, is a motto from Rudyard Kipling, to "build something up with worn out tools." She is singled out by Elsa as an exception in Aboriginal society - a girl "not with her head on her chest, but looking at you proudly." Kordulia's work is presented to the viewer in several carefully composed close-ups that invite a careful inspection of its quality; her and Walter's painting is "rough and not seasoned, but is a powerful evocation of landscape". One of Kordulia's paintings, we are told, has been bought by the Duke of Edinburgh and now hangs in Buckingham Palace. In an enacted sequence of Kordulia walking up to John Flynn's tomb at once very similar to the sequence in Curtis Levy's Sons of Namatjira yet signifying black-white relations in a completely different fashion, she gazes at the tomb in the same way as her painter's gaze surveys the landscape, and reads the Lord's Prayer in her "native Aranda language". This set of actions, clearly orchestrated by the Chauvels, stitches together several of the themes of Walkabout. It sketches a utopian moment of black-white relations - a black "couple", and especially a woman, who have "improved themselves" by coming to resemble nothing so much as the "working team" of Charles and Elsa but who nevertheless are accorded, within the regimes of the series, an extraordinary actantial autonomy. It links past and present, and this episode of the series with an earlier one featuring the work of the Flying Doctor (3 - "Outposts"), by having Kordulia "pay her respects" to a founding father of both medical and missionary service in Central Australia, John Flynn.
As with Jedda, the "progressive" and "regressive" elements of the Chauvels' representation of Aboriginality are inseparable. The "Walter and Kordulia" segment, along with the segment from "Last Walkabout" I am about to consider, constitute the most intimate and sustained "personality portraitures" in Walkabout. In Kordulia's case, the enunciative voice of the series is momentarily and singularly delegated to her the touristic "scenes" one would expect to be featured - Flynn's tomb, the painterly Standley Chasm, and other ranges and gorges of the area - are there, but mediated by Kordulia's painterly gaze. In this segment, the black family has been transformed from a touristic spectacle (as in the case, bleakly, in the "answering" sequence in Sons of Namatjira) into a touristic subject. The viewer views the "famous" touristic sights as seen by Kordulia and Walter as touristic subjects within their "own country". Almost the entire final episode of the series, "Last Walkabout", is occupied by the Chauvels "going on Walkabout" with an Aboriginal family who are "caught spontaneously" by the expedition's cameras as they are actually on Walkabout. [note 75] The parallelisms implied here are extended throughout the episode - the "really primitive Aborigine [sic] family on Walkabout" are represented in terms of a reassuringly recognisable model nuclear family in direct proportion to the Chauvels enjoying "the experience of living completely off the land" by learning from the superior bush knowledge of "Mr and Mrs Gul Guln. The point, again, of this episode is the utopian effortlessness with which such cultural interchange can take place. It commences, as do many of the mini-narrative "adventures" of the series, as a piece of simulated drama around the "sighting" of the Gul-Gul family:
- Look, Charles, look over there!The family, except for "Mr. Gul-Gul", hides from the expedition. This, despite a later remark that Walkabouts are "necessary to take refuge from white society", is laughed off by Elsa as a cute game of hide-and-seek. Charles effortlessly establishes his intentions of accompanying the group, and the episode proceeds through a series of encounters to establish, and laud, the logic, economy and charm of such a "way of life". What begins as a slightly dramatic spectacle of alterity concludes as a thoroughly disarming embourgeoisement. What underpins both is the Chauvels' characteristic performance, rather than rhetoric, of a naive utopia of cultural reciprocity.
- We think we've found what we've been looking for a real primitive Aborigine family on Walkabout.
- Harry, get a camera!
Permission to quote from material held in the Chauvel estate copyright by Mrs Susanne Carlsson is gratefully acknowledged.
2. That which I have termed elsewhere the "traditional" historiography of Australian cinema, in "Australian Film History and Historiography", Australian Journal of Cultural Studies, v.1, no.1 (May 1983) pp.122-127.
3. See, eg., Albert Moran and Tom O'Regan, "Two Discourses of Australian Film", Australian Journal of Screen Theory, nos15/16 (1983), pp.163-173; Moran, "Australian Documentary Cinema", Arena, no.64 (1983), pp.83-99.
5. David Bordwell, The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), p.9. Bordwell's quotation is from Boris Tomashevsky, "Literature and Biography", in Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska (eds.), Readings in Russian Poetics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971), p.55.
7. For a more detailed discussion of Chauvel's filmmaking in the light of certain of these theoretical parameters, see my "The Sentimental Age: Chauvel, Melodrama, Nationality", Framework, nos 30/3I (1986), pp40-59; "The Text in Film History", Australian Journal of Screen Theory nos. 17/18 (1986), pp.34-48, and "Negotiating the Difference: The Chauvel School of Scenario Writing", in Tom O'Regan und Brian Shoesmith eds. History on/and/in Film (Perth: History and Film Association of Australia, 1987). See also William Routt, On the Expression of Colonialism in Early Australian Films: Charles Chauvel and Naive Cinema, in Albert Moran und Tom O'Regan (eds.), An Australian Film Reader (Sydney: Currency Press,1985), Pp 55-66.
11. Charles Munro to Frederick Daniel, 27 May 1950. Frederick Daniel Papers, Manuscript Collection, National Library of Australia (hereafter NLA MS 1634),MS 1634, Series 144. Intriguingly, there is a "first draft script" of Robbery Under Arms, without authorial attribution, dated 12 October 1950, included in the papers of C.E. Chauvel, Mitchell Library (MSS 662/2, pp.111-343). (Hereafter ML MSS 666). See also Andrew Pike, "The History of an Australian Film Production Company: Cinesound 1932-70." unpublished M A. thesis, ANU., 1972, p.211 ff.
12. Frederick Daniel, for Film Producer's Association of Australia, to Minister of Interior, 22 February 1952. NLA MS 1634/26311. For Chauvel's involvement, see NLA MS 1634/289~6. See also Shirley and Adams, p. 192
21. F.H. Moy, Director of Native Affairs, Native Affairs Branch, Northern Territory Administration, "To whom it may concern", 4 August 1950, ML MSS 666/1; Under Secretary, Premier and Chief Secretary's Department, Queensland to Chauvel 13 February 1950, ML MSS 666/1; Chauvel to W.S. Kent Hughes, Minister for the Interior and Works and Housing, 20 February 1952, Chauvel Papers, NFSA; R.G.Casey, Minister for Works and Housing and National Development, to Douglas Fraser, 25 May 1952, ML MSS 666/1.
23. Elsa Chauvel, interview with Graham Shirley, 12 August 1976, Typescript, NFSA and Chauvel to Kent-Hughes, 20 February 1952, Kent-Hughes to Chauvel, 26 February 1952, Chauvel to P.M. Hasluck, Minister for Territories, 10 March 1952, Chauvel Papers, NFSA.
26. Prospectus, p.7. The prospectus cites Dore Shary, MGM vice-President, in The Case of a Movie. See also Janet Staiger, "The Hollywood Mode of Production: The Construction of Divided Labor in the Film Industry", Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1981, pp300-319 and "The Hollywood Mode of Production, 1930-1960", in David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985) pp.330-335.
28. "Studio Closure Queried", Daily Telegraph, 22 January 1952; Elsa Chauvel, interview with Graham Shirley; Minutes of Meeting of Charles Chauvel Productions Ltd, 17 November 1953, Chauvel Papers NFSA.
29. See Elsa Chauvel, My Life, pp.115-136. In "Salute to Jedda", Film Weekly Special Section, 14 April 1955, the major trade paper editorialised :"A first class publicity campaign for Jedda resulted in excellent press breaks in the big nationals, Women's Weekly, Australian Monthly and Women's Day. World's News carried a double page spread. Walkabout gave an excellent coverage and Dawn, the magazine for the Aboriginal people of NSW, devoted good space to the picture. The lay press has been highly co-operative at all times and after Jedda premiered in Darwin, both the morning and evening dailies devoted big space to the reviews. (p. K)
45. See, for example, Brian McArdle, "Jedda Opens New Cinema Field", The Age, 24 August 1955; "Jedda the Uncivilized", Boxoffice Booking Guide, 1 September 1956; "Jedda", Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1956; "Best Australian Film So Far", Weekly Times, 17 September 1955; J A.V. Stevens, "Our Best Film - Jedda", Sun, 24 August 1955; Michael Sawtell (Member of the Aborigines Welfare Board), "Jedda", Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1955; E.S. Madden, "Jedda Could Begin a New Australian Era", News Weekly, 12 October 1955; "Jedda is YOUR Film", Dawn: A Magazine for the Aboriginal People of NSW, September 1954; Frank O'Connell, "Filming the Outback: The Making of the film 'Jedda' by Charles and Elsa Chauvel", Walkabout. 1 January 1955; Gerry Grant, "Jedda ", Overland, no 6. (February 1956).
48. This, I think, gives an indication of how a hypothetical future for Chauvel's output could have fared internationally: the circulation of the Chauvel signature as an invitation to auteurist appropriation within the emergent international art cinema of the 1960s.
49. Bill Routt, 'The Cinema of Charles Chauvel", Videocrit, Australian Film and Television School, 1982; Bruce Molloy, "Some Aspects of Australian Social Mythology in Selected Australian Feature Films, 1930-60", Unpublished D.Phil. dissertation, Griffith University, 1985, pp.266-283.
55. Again, this kind of position has its origins in the late nineteenth century when the need for new policies in response to the functionality of black labour in the pastoral industry became apparent at a policy level. See Aboriginal History, pp.29 ff.
56. See, on The Reckless Moment, Elizabeth Cowie, "Fantasia", m/f no. 9 (1984) and, on Meet Me in St. Louis, Andrew Britton, "Meet Me in St. Louis: Smith, or the Ambiguities", Australian Journal of Screen Theory, no3 (1977).
59. Frederick Jameson, "Class and Allegory in Contemporary Mass Culture: Dog Day Afternoon as a Political Film," in Bill Nichols (ed.) Movies and Methods Vol.II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).
61. These projects - My Love Must Wait, Wards of the Outer March, Jedda - foreshadow by twenty years and more the kinds of epic nationalist projects engaged in by the "new" Australian film and TV industry in the late 1970s to the present.
70. See my "The Sentimental Age", pp. 41-44, and, for detailed treatment of descriptive writing, Margriet Bonnin, "A Study of Australian Descriptive and Travel Writing, 1929-45", unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1980 and Bonnin, "Ion Idriess: 'Rich Australiana"', in Susan Dermody, John Docker and Drusilla Modjeska (eds.), Nellie Melba, Ginger Meggs and Friends: Essays in Australian Cultural History (Malmsbury: Kibble Books, 1982).
71. Anon., "Talkabout Walkabout", Bulletin 5 August 1959. See also Scrutarius, "Still Challenging But The Outback Is Striking",Walkabout, October 1959, and, for British reception, "Walkabout", Coventry Evening Telegraph, 28 May 1959, "Adventurous Australian Journey", Portsmouth News, 29 May 1959, "Across Australia",Southern Evening Echo(Southampton) 22 May 1959, "The Journey to the Last Frontiers of Adventure", Evening Chronicle, 12 June 1959.
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