Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture
Vol. 1, No. 1, 1987
Australian Film in the 1950s
Edited by Tom O'Regan

An Australian Film Reader in Question

Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka

Review: An Australian Film Reader, edited by Tom O'Regan & Albert Moran (Sydney: Currency Press, 1985).

It is easy to welcome the idea of a collection like this, comprising a kind of documentary history of Australian film, supplemented by original articles solicited for the book. Such a book has not been attempted before in the area, and 'the area' itself may be presumed to be a growing one at tertiary levels of education, if you include not just film studies but also the wider field of Australian studies. The problem is that it is also surprisingly easy to pick holes in the actual selection, identifying problems of shifting criteria, compartmentalisation of the choices, lack of documentation and commentary in situations where it might be expected - all of which frustrate the task of trying to decide what the book sets out to be, and how well it has succeeded in its own terms.

Of course any anthology has a partly accidental quality - its prehistory is one of often protracted negotiation with the perceived ideal, of more or less perfect answers obtained from requests or searches for particular articles felt to be essential... The title of the collection plays with the idea of authority, or prescribed readings, and then slips in the gentle disclaimer, "Ann, so that we may be warned to expect no more than a reader/a reading among many. Furthermore, the editors' introduction states that "the book assembles a series of voices abut Australian film, without seeming (as far as we can tell) to have a definite authorial voice of its own" (p.14); however, they go on to say that a point of view, a commitment, an argument, are all discernible between the lines; readers will find and use them for themselves.

Few anthologies in their final form probably ever satisfy their compilers' authorial intentions, however much 'between the lines' they may wish those intentions to remain. But still it is possible to critique in a general way the implicit project of the choices, against a series of logical possibilities.

Criteria of Selection

These are the possibilities, as they occur to us. The book may be in tended to represent the best' articles from/about each phase or each kind of film, that is, to be the articles most worthy of rescue, selection and assembly in one place. Or they might be meant to be the articles that have been most influential, or most unfairly overlooked; or they may have been selected for the symptomatic kinds of evidence they offer about a period. They might be taken to be a kind of 'montage' of pieces that, in combination and sequence (or sequences) provoke a particular, possibly new, reading of Australian film. They might be offered as a deliberately idiosyncratic selection permitting quite unpredictable kinds of use by their readers.

This last possibility seems partly able to serve as a kindly defence for a selection that does not unequivocally display any of the other criteria. Perhaps we should keep it in reserve, for the collection does not seem to us to be intended to satisfy any one of these possible sets of criteria for selection, nor does it partly satisfy all of them. It is puzzlingly betwixt and between: some pieces seem to be selected for their archival and documentary-history value, some for their importance in identifying historical processes either in their time or after it, some seem valued for their polemical nature, or for the polemic that may be perceived by comparison with another piece elsewhere in the collection... There are some excellent pieces, a number that are to be welcomed back into print, but quite a few whose inclusion still remains a puzzle. There are also puzzling gaps.

In our view, a less reticent, more frequently exercised authorial voice throughout the book, including contextualising commentary and information at the head of each piece would have helped to dispel the sense of randomness and occasional obscurity, and would have greatly strengthened its value as a collection of documents for a history. Most of all, it would have enabled the book to do more definitely what its editors must have wished it to do (disclaimers aside) - to make available some particular ways of reading both the object, Australian film, in some of its guises, and the discourse around that object.

Grouping of the Articles

The collection is grouped into four sections, "Early Cinema". "Documentary Hopes", "Renaissance of the Feature", and "Alternative Cinema", and it is argued that this is because "at least four cinemas are discernible... the feature films of the silent and early sound period up to the Second World War; the documentary work of Film Australia and its numerous precursors; the commercial features produced by the re-established industry from 1971; and the range of independent/opposition/avant-garde film practices, with their diverse political affiliations, from the early 1960s to the present" (Introduction, p.13).

At first glance, this seems unexceptionable. But the effect is to form compartments of time and of kind of film in a way that is never particularly productive and sometimes downright counter-productive. The division encourages a sparsely informed general reader to think of documentary as replacing feature film and accounting for the entity, 'Australian film', from about 1940 to about 1971. Then feature film resumes the story to the pre sent, qualified partly by a mysterious shadow entity, "Alternative Cinema", which looks from the selection to be an odd mix of left-over items of con science - art, women, blacks, and left-wing documentary film of the fifties(!). Something a little reminiscent of the old and infamous ministerial portfolio of the sixties, "Environment", Aborigines and the Arts". 1 The fact, for ex ample, that Film Australia documentary has been powerfully influential in both feature and independent documentary production since 1971 is obscured by this division, and not brought to light by cross-referring commentary by the editors. So is the fact that documentary was not the only filmmaking in the period assigned to it here even if it was arguably the most prolific and dominant film activity of this period.

Perhaps the compartmentalisation was chosen as a device that might lessen the need for intrusive editorial commentary; ironically, its effect is one of much mote heavy-handed and possibly distorting editorialising than could have been intended. A freer arrangement of articles might have yielded far richer juxtapositions and readings, it seems to us, especially if aided and abetted by editorial commentary with a light and sometimes polemical touch, that also took the trouble consistently to document and describe a discursive context for the pieces selected. And the documentary values of the book would have been strengthened by the compilation of a far less selective, fat more exhaustive bibliography at the end, to give a sense of the historical and critical discursive field from which the choices were drawn, and in which other, quite different "Readers" might be constructed...

Early Cinema

This is the briefest section (in a collection of noticeably brief articles or excerpts from larger pieces); it is argued that only fragmentary knowledge and discussion has begun to open up this "largely unexplored territory". Some of the pieces are snippets from trade papers of the late teens and twenties - they are so light as to disappear altogether if a gust of wind should turn the page. In a way, more of them would have been better, so that a sense of the way of speaking of Australian trade mags in the decorous twenties of Australia could be better understood; and reproductions of the pages, alongside (not necessarily complete) neighbouring articles, pictures, ads, etc., would have breathed greater life into them. One of the things that John Tulloch's book on the twenties, Legends on the Screen,2 did very well was to bring that moment of discourse about film back before the eye and the ear, so that its particular floweriness and high mode of rhetoric could be thought about, along with the unconscious of the assumptions and contradictions bound up in its sentences. Tulloch's analysis of the degree to which Longford's Sentimental Bloke (1919) went against the grain of accepted canons of Hollywood taste is excerpted from that study (also published by the publisher of this volume)...

The inclusion of Albie Thoms' tirade against the elevation of Ken G. Hall to any kind of pantheon of great artists and nationalists is interesting not so much for what it establishes about Hall, but for what it says about the cultural and structural insecurity of the present industry as late as 1977, when it was written. It would have been interesting to include (and indeed to reference in the Bibliography) an excerpt from Andrew Pike's unpublished thesis on Cinesound3 with its carefully detailed approval of Hall's work. Ruth Megaw's 1968 analysis of the effortless hegemonic capitulation of large local trade-interests to the American majors in the early phase is workmanlike (with some "symptomatic" interest in its own right as evidence of how easy it was in the 1960s to espouse a fairly unadorned media-imperialist thesis).

But the most valuable piece to have in print is a version of Bill Routt's thesis about the naive style in Chauvel's work, as a partly unconscious expression of a colonial dependency in early Australian films. He presents a less elaborated version of the argument on videotape in the Film School's Videocrit series.4 It's an attractive thesis for the way that it brings together 'inexplicable' lapses of judgement and taste (by current standards) in the films with a notion of the "consistently" unsophisticated and heedless passion" of the naive artist, and links that with a trading of the glaring blind-spots of an unrebellious colonial culture - coming close, at times, to what Stuart Cunningham has highlighted in Elsaesser's work, a successful probing for the 'social imaginery' of a visual culture at a point in time.5 One thing he doesn't ask though, is why Chauvel? What made Chauvel so gloriously available to this process of the culture, and to the deep contradictions of 'nation' and 'mother country' in his idiosyncratic series of high melodramas?

Documentary Hopes

The defects in the overall conception of the book reappear in this section. The history of the documentary film movement/s in Australia is probably far less well known and written about than the feature film, but this section doesn't fully use the opportunity it had to remedy that situation. Here, more perhaps than in the other sections, it is crucial to contextualise the pieces. For example who but a reader already expert in Australian film history would understand the importance of the name, -Alan Stout or even Stanley Hawes and John Heyer.6 The sketches of the writers appearing in the introduction don't give enough information about where these pieces are coming from and why such interventions were significant in the debates of the day.

Another problem is indicated by its title, "Documentary Hopes", a problem made more perplexing by the fact that this is the only section with such an interpretative title. Why "hopes"? What were they? And in what way were "these hopes eroded one by one", as Moran states in his 1984 essay on From the Tropics to the Snow (p.104). In many ways the documentary movement 1945-1970 in Australia holds the key to understanding much about filmmaking generally in Australia as well as other areas of cultural and political life. Yet this so pregnant notion of "hopes" is never really examined. Are we to assume that Moran means the same by hopes as is indicated by Grierson in his memorandum to the Prime Minister? Moran states that the Commonwealth Film Unit (CFU) "seemed to have a promising future .... as a vital part of a national information program", (p.104) which seems to echo Grierson's account of the role of an Australian government filmmaking body in his memorandum: "The film is a powerful medium of information and if mobilised in an orderly way under a determined government policy, is of special value to the Australian Government at the present juncture."(p.72)7 This, of course, was written in 1940, that is, in a war situation. But as we know from Grierson's other writing, this is pretty much the vision he had for government filmmaking even in peace-time. If this is what is meant by documentary "hopes", then very far from them being dashed, one could say that they were fulfilled almost to the letter and this is exactly what was wrong with much of the CFU s film output and attitudes by the end of the 1950s and beyond.

This malaise is referred to in Neil Beggs' very thought-provoking 1960 article, "The Heart Seems to Have Gone..." when he says, that an "overall look at the production of the unit in the last few years confirms that the pompous drum of considerations of prestige has replaced the artistry of the Film Unit's earlier days".(p.101) He goes on to suggest the Griersonian vision of the need to promote the public and corporate sector of life, led to a debased public relations machine for Government.(p.103) Stephen Wallace makes a similar point in his 1975 article,8 " film Australia Isolated and Middle-Class", a scathing and timely attack on what by the 1970s had become a closed and complacent world of filmmaking unable to respond to rapid change in Australian society or to creatively reinterpret its own charter in a way that would give its films any connection at all to the diverse groups in the Australian community.

The tantalising glimpses of criticism and analysis that appear in some of the articles in this section alongside those other symptomatic documents of promotion and propaganda like Stout's, Bennett's and Day's, make one wish with that the editors had been a little more venturesome in putting forward their own hypotheses about the Australian documentary movement The inclusion of Moran's very useful Arena article, cited in the bibliography, would have helped to contextualise the piece by Heyer for example.9 We realise of course that research into this movement is severely underdeveloped, but if Moran and O'Regan had only elaborated their principles of selection of the pieces chosen, an interesting set of perhaps conflicting hypotheses might have emerged which would have advanced the enterprise of documentary history further than the bare display of the articles does.

Nevertheless many very interesting connections are there to be drawn between the different authors and different periods. For example, Bennett's puffing 1970 piece about the CFU is echoed by much of the breathless enthusiasm exhibited just a few years later by critics like Bennett himself and Paddy McGuiness in connection with the nascent featureindustry.10 And there are remarkable similarities between John Heyer's 1957 piece and Christopher Day's much later (}980) article about A Big Country. The same demand to depict the true essence of the Australian character as resourceful, humorous, down-to-earth (and in the outback) recur in almost the same phrases, (and is being repeated yet again in only a slightly nuanced way in the discourse surrounding Paul Hogan & Peter Faiman's Crocodile Dundee (1986). Again one longs for some kind of analysis or at least suggestion about why this discourse is so constant and so pervasive at a cultural level in an Australia that in other ways has undergone profound transformations since the 1950s.

This points to another deficiency in the choice of material, though possibly one that was inevitable given what was available. There is nothing that gives any indication of the social context of the films and the filmmaking nothing that might indicate how the content of the films related to the particular political stakes of the day. There is a fruitful and important area of research which seems not yet to have been broached.

As readers coming to the book with largely a researcher's interest we were disappointed that the editors did not indicate in more detail the source of some of their material and what other gems they decided to omit and why. And also a fuller bibliography for the documentary section, where no such thing yet exists as h does for the other areas, would have helped other researchers to build on the valuable work Albert Moran has done in this area. As teachers we regret that for this section, which mentions films least well known and least accessible to teachers and students, suggestions were not given as to appropriate films to use in conjunction with readings and where they might be obtained.

Finally, the division of the book into the four rather artificial sections cuts off the documentary arbitrarily at 1970 (apart from the later A Big Country) and precludes the reader from making any links between government documentary of the period 1945-1970 and so-called "independent" or "radical" documentaries of the 1970s and 1980s, or indeed with the commercial documentary production sector which flourished after 10BA. The "Alternative Cinema" section does not really redress this, since documentary is dealt with there only in the context of women's and black filmmaking and then not in the detail that permits the discernment of the undoubted continuities between CFU documentary styles and concerns and the independent scene, not to mention the feature sector. Perhaps the section should have been entitled not "Documentary Hopes", but simply "Government Filmmaking".

Renaissance of the Future

This section is an incredible grab-bag of pieces almost every one of which has its own unique principle of selection and which results in the section as a whole sprawling in many different directions. This makes it stimulating and even exciting, but it also makes it frustrating. To oversimplify, since we've already indicated the selection is more various than this, it seems to contain broadly two kinds of articles; those that can be regarded as documents symptomatic of their time (Weir, Lawson, Hall, Thornhill, Interim Report, Lawson again, McGuiness, Wood, Kael, Tudor, Burstall, Ricketson, Morris) and those which are more distanced and more academic analyses of the period in hindsight (Hinde - not that he's academic, which is his great virtue, Cunningham, O'Regan, Moran and Rohdie). These two categories are not of course exclusive: Meaghan Morris' 1982 review of Sweet Dreamers was both a highly pertinent, even sensational intervention at the time (a time of hot debate about the value of 1OBA) 11 and remains as a cogent explanation of the deficiencies in Australian filmmaking as a whole. But, broadly, one can see the section as continuing both documents of the time and more analytical and reflective pieces (of course these are also documents of their time).

As a documentary history of the renaissance of the feature, the section provides a bias towards the earliest period; there are no fewer than six pieces from what might be called the prehistory of the revival, that is up to the establishment of the Australian Film Development Corporation and the Experimental Film Fund in 1970. 12 No doubt some indication of this period was essential but perhaps one out of the two Lawson pieces and the Thornhill would have been sufficient, not all three.

As a result of this over-emphasis, the later period is neglected almost completely except for the inclusion of film reviews. There are no documents to register some of the important changes and debates that occurred after 1970, e.g., the problems with the AFDC and its replacement by the AFC (Australian Film Commission), the growing conflict between producers and unions around questions of Australian content, the push for and establishment of the 10BA tax concessions, the subsequent growth of the film finance industry and the "internationalisation" of the industry in the 1980s. The representation of people like Tony Ginnane, Richard Franklin, Uri Windt, Joe Skrzynski, the Peat Marwick and Mitchell report, etc., 13 would have pointed to these extremely important issues and forces in the industry. Many of the pieces that would have been appropriate originally appeared in Cinema Papers and we note that the Reader contains nothing from this indispensable source; did the editors of Cinema Papers refuse to allow their material to be reproduced, perhaps having in mind a rival anthology? If this is the case, it is to be regretted that material that would have rounded out the section was unavailable. 14

The main documents touching on the issues mentioned above that have been included are Tim Burstall's very useful Bulletin article, originally called "Triumph and Disaster in Australian Film'', and Ricketson's "Poor Movies, Rich Movies". The former, written in 1977, was a brave article which, incidentally, we found very helpful when we were researching our book, be cause it divulged financial information usually jealously guarded, making it virtually taboo to conduct any open and honest discussion about the failures, artistic and financial, of the Australian industry. The editors have renamed the article "Twelve genres of Australian Film", but because they omit Burstall's original tables and his insightful categorisation of the genres, what these actually are and how they relate to financial trends, does not emerge clearly.

Ricketson's piece which appeared in 1979 but which still had currency in 1982 when it was being handed out by the forces fighting so-called "international" tendencies in Australian film during the first heady days of 10BA, has relevance again now as, once more, the film financing base of the industry is being debated.

The collection of film reviews and criticism (McGuiness, Hunter, Kael, Tudor and Wood) makes interesting reading. It's good to have the chance to reread McGuiness' review of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) although it's not as excessive in its praise as we'd remembered it. However it and other similar reviews were part of the official domestication of the Australian industry that took place in 1975/6 around movies like Picnic, Caddie (1976) and Sunday Too Far Away (1974); the promotion of the idea that we, as a nation could be proud of these films in contrast to the shameful crudeness of the Alvins and the Bazzas, registered in John Hinde's thoughtful 1981 reassessment. Perhaps it was the sickening officialness of the approval surrounding those key films of the mid-70s which led to Hunter's exasperated explosion, "the film is bloody awful..." in an otherwise elegant analysis of Picnic's pre-Raphaelite soft pornographic concerns. His article, though one of the most sophisticated and intelligent of the time, now obviously bears the marks of its period in its unquestioning acceptance of the importance of cultural nationalism, ("the film has nothing to do with this country ... its real setting is mid-nineteenth century England") and its rather doctrinaire feminism ("binding the female body, preventing its free movement, hopelessly deforming it." p.l91). In the post-modernist, ironical, paradistick 1980s, and post-Brian de Palma, it is possible to make a rather less literal reading of Picnic, and certainly to appreciate its expertness and craft, whatever one might think of the charge that it is nothing more than a piece of sickly Victorian sentiment.

The other film critics/reviewers represented are all from overseas: Wood, Kael and Tudor. It's an odd choice: only the inclusion of Kael's piece makes any sense to us: it is important because, as Sue Mathews showed in her 1983 ABC radio programs about the overseas reception of the industry (now pub lished by Currency Press as American Dreams, Australian Movies15 recognition by the enomously important New York critical establishment was an important reason for the success of Australian films in overseas art-cinema markets and this in turn provided the respectability necessary for the government's continued funding of the industry. And reading the Kael piece on The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) now almost 10 years after its release suggests that it may be one of the underestimated and overlooked films of the 1970s and makes us eager to see it again on the big screen. Pauline Kael, though undoubtedly having no very thorough knowledge of Australian society and history, manages to make a good deal of sense of the Aboriginal issues dealt with in Jimmie Blacksmith.

In the case of the other two overseas critics, their geographical and cultural distance from Australia makes their pieces just silly. Perhaps this was why they were included. Tudor's superficial and rather supercilious judgments on films like Cars that Ate Paris (1974), Sunday, Newsfront (1978), Jimmie Blacksmith are plain irritating. One wonders whether there wasn't a better in formed example of the British critical reception of the new Australian cinema available. And Wood's methodological contradictions, 1960s auteurism mixed with 1970s structuralism and psychoanalysis, together with his heightened consciousness about "homosexual subtexts", makes his piece a perfect example of how critical straitjackets can obscure rather than illuminate the cultural, textual and industrial patterns crisscrossing a group of films like Beresford's. Again, why include Wood's piece? Is h because of Wood's prestige, or was it the only piece then available that critically engaged with the issue of auteurism in Australian cinema, an issue that has been woefully overlooked in spite of it being almost the dominant theme in film promotional discourse, especially in the period 1978 to 1983 (witness Sue Matthews' other book, 35 mm Dreams16 which is a series of interviews with our "star" directors, and of course David Stratton's important, if flawed book, The Last New Wave.17

And if the editors were eager to include material indicating overseas recep tion of Australian films, it is a pity they didn't include material from Europe and Japan. It would be interesting to register the quirky readings of Australian films at a greater cultmal and linguistic distance. We came across one fascinat ingly bizarre analysis of Australian cinema in a French cinema magazine which is the course of an adulatory account of our "cinema du fantastique" erected an unexpected canon which included Patrick (1978), Long Weekend (1978), Harlequin (1980) and The Survivor (1981). Ginnane as auteur, perhaps? An other surprising omission is any discussion of the Mad Max films, arguably the most interesting cycle of overtly commercial films to have emerged during the revival.

Sam Rohdie's piece on Peter Weir and Gallipoli (1982 is useful in point ing out that Weir's success lies in his expert manipulation of both the mass popular movie (for local audiences) and the classic art film (for the overseas market), though one could perhaps make the same argument for Beresford, Schepesi and Armstrong, if not for the Australian industry as a whole. But as an insight into Gallipoli itself, and into other films and mini-series of the early 1980s, which recycle often militaristic and masculine myths of our young nationhood, Amanda Lohry's article onGallipoli (cited in the bibliography) would have been a better choice.l8

This incidentally points to an inedequacy in the sparse introduction to this section. The editors say "the late 1970s and early 1980s have seen the effective end of the period film", yet in the early 1980s the period film had a revival. The new version was not the gentle story of individuals it had been in the 1970s with Caddie, Picnic, The Irishman (1978), The Picture Show Man (1977) etc; now it became the deliberate exploitation of major national myths with Breaker Morant (1980), Gallipoli (1981), The Man from Snowy River (1982), Phar Lap (1983), Robbery Under Arms (1985), not to mention the countless mini-series with similar themes of the mid-1980s. The trend to the new nationalism so much cruder and more up-market than the 1970s variety, and culminating in the present in Crocodile Dundee and the Joh party is not registered in this collection, except in Tom O'Regan's excellent piece on The Man from Snowy River.

This is one of a group of four articles in this section (the others are by Cunningham, Moran and Rohdie's second piece) which form a more considered and analytical recent summation of the Australian industry up to 1983. In "Hollywood genres, Australian Movies" Cunningham argues that in the early 1980s the dominant strand of Australian filmmaking moved away from what we have called the "AFC-genre" film and began to embrace a formula which combined the more traditional Australian concerns of that genre with the more overtly "commercial" stylistics and genres of Hollywood films. He cites Starstruck (1982), Mad Max (1979-1981), Far East (1982), Snowy River as examples of this trend, and elaborates his thesis in more detail in an illuminat ing discussion of the somewhat under-rated musical,Starstruck. However, ultimately the argument is not entirely convincing. Certainly this group of films exhibits a greater slickness (and better production values) than was evident in many of the films of the 1970s, but isPhar Lap any more "Hollywood" than Newfront?

O'Regan's article is an important one to have included as it was an important intervention in the debates around Snowy River, that occurred at the time of its release. Local critics of the film went through many contortions attempting to reconcile their contempt for the film with its enormous appeal to audience. (Crocodile Dundee presents a similar challenge now). O'Regan's arti cle was an excellent expose of the methodological underpinnings of much of the criticism, and made out a persuasive case for the reasons for the film's popularity. What worried us then and still does is the way his analysis over looked the way Snowy River positions the woman in its narrative (all sorts of parallels between women, the land and horses) and also the complexity between the popular discourses of the film, which O'Regan so neatiy analyses, and certain reactionary trends in Australian populism, even clearer now than in 1983 when the most sinister sort of right-wing populism we faced was Bob Hawke's.

The articles by Moran and Rohdie provide a useful analysis of the economic relations underlying the Australian industry. Rohdie argues that it is an absurdity to "speak of an Australian film in [a] situation of foreign owner ship and control" (p.268), and goes on to conclude that "Australian cinema cannot be thought nationa1 in economic terms or independent in cultural-artis tic ones. Australian films of the last decade have been conformist, conservative, intellectually and artistically dull..."(p.273).

Rohdie's article is important because it is one of the few which attempts to give an overali assessment of the political and aesthetic nature of the revived industry, but its economistic bias makes it too coarse a grid to discern the many different thematic and stylistic patterns that crisscross the fascinating va riety evident in Australian cinema once you look beyond a handful of prestige films. Can Rohdie's characterisation of it as the "mediated reproduction of the social relations and imagery of colonial-capitalism" possibly deal with the diversity than runs from Newsfront to Dogs in Space (1987) or from The Mango Tree (1977) to Australian Dream (1986) or from For Love Alone (1986) to Dead-End Drive-In (1986). There is no doubt our cinema (like most other "national cinemas") is severely circumscribed by America's domination of the international film-industry, but like a dominated people it is remarkable how vigorous the signs of its small resistances can be, and this finally, is what makes still caring about it worthwhile.

Alternative Cinema

The independent sector is probably the least written about of all, and the best of what exists is in ephemeral form. No substantial account has yet been attempted of its milieux, its institutions and discourses, its aesthetic and social histories. Of all the sections, this would have been most deserving of some extended solicited pieces of writing.

The proposition (in the introduction to the section) that there are several alternative cinemas, each steered by its concerns beyond film (for example, feminism, the avant-garde, Black Australia, etc) is debatable, or at least deserves to be qualified by a sense of the sort of floating constituency that can form around 'film culture' issues, for example, when funding patterns change course at the bureaucratic levels of the institution of cinema, in its country. Institutions like Filmnews and the Sydney Filmmaker's Co-op have been long lasting and influential sites around which a loose milieu, with far from loose feelings of mutual attachment, have formed.19 The Creative Development Fund (and its predecessors, the Experimental Film Fund and Film and TV Board of the Australia Council) has nurtured a cluster or series of main concerns of the AFC, its parent body. The never quite comfortable relations between the funders and the funded have surfaced from time to time in pieces like the critique by Helen Grace and John Cruthers in Filmnews on "Creative "- a piece which would have greatiy helped to fill the gaps in this section.20 It is a fascinating process to see (as you do in that article) the way that a 'scene' articulates its interests and itself, directiy and indirectly. Albie Thoms' piece on early UBU years is partly in that mode, but is aqlso very much an 'advertisement for myself'; it would have been good to include Sam Rohdie's Filmnews review of the book from which it is drawn, Polemics for a New Cinema,21 which punctures many of the narcissistic and slightiy godfatherly pretensions of Thoms' mode of writing. Other excellent unpublished work on the UBU period exists, such as a monograph by Penny Davies, an important (and disinterested) history of the Sydney scene in the sixties, written in 1984; a more widely-cast net might have picked it up for this collection.

Barrett Hodson's critique of Thoms' narrative feature, Palm Beach (1979), is a welcome inclusion because it explores some of the tensions of the relationship 'independent' and 'mainstream'. From quite another perspective, so do Fellicity Collins' two institutional analyses, both written for Filmnews in the early eighties, one on the Film and Television School, the other on the main funded 'film culture' body, the Australian Film Institute.2 Again, the milieu speaks and declares itself in those pieces, even while the polemic is enclosed in meticulously researched analysis. Why weren't they thought of for this section?

It's true that the 'scene' we're talking about, replete with factional antago nisms, speaks clearly enough in Adrian Martin's manifesto of the eternal and true independence of the super-8 film work (written in 1982). He would have us see a rather precious small flame kept alight in the buffeting winds of film theory and funding bodies, both of whom (in concert?) would appropriate the last preserve of canny innocence, if they could.

But Barbara Alysen's brief Cook's tour of Australian women filmmakers through the ages - a piece written for the collection - is disappointingly super ficial. Having Lesley Stern's 1979 article on Feminist Filmmaking does not really flesh out its bare chronology with the meat of discussion, at least not very much, given its deliberate restriction of discussion to four films. Lesley's piece doesn't hide any of its age; in fact, with all due respect to its clarity and importance in its day as a way in to talking about these matters, what is now most interesting about it (and this partly applies to Adrian's much 'younger' article as well) is how quickly its discourse dates and ages it. Of course, this makes it more, not less, of a valid choice for a collection like this - but how will the general reader find her way to this perspective, entirely unassisted by the editors?

Sylvia Lawson's notes on what has become a touchstone film for its time, Helen Grace's Serious Undertakings is an excellent inclusion, taking confident grasp of this slippery ice-cube of a film. Anne Hutton's brief rave about films about Black Australia stands threadbare beside it, litt1e more than a protest that she, at least, is on the morally correct side of this debate. Again, the tone is well caught by this selection; so much of independent-sector talk and writing is dedicated to display of proper moral and ideological alliances, and we should give thought to this aspect of the discourse. But again, would it be too intrusive to sign-post this tendency, ever so delicately, for the mythical 'general reader'?

The section peters out into an oddly-assorted coUection of pieces - analysis, reminiscence, interview (for the first and only time in the book) - on left wing documentary work in the fifties and early sixties. Why? Charles Merewether's piece serves a double function weU, reflecting eighties' renewed interest in half-buried work, but the other contributions are a little over-spe cialised and peculiarly out of place, and when they are taking up room in an under-represented, gappy section, their discrepancy is more sorely felt. The artificiality of the compartmentalisation, and the lack of a tissue of commen tary, helping to reignite old sparlcs of polemic and debate, is once more pushed into the foreground.

In sum, this is a valuable book full of many treasures and surprises and able to be raided by a tenacious reader to make a number of different pictures of "Austra1ian Film". Some of the faults and disappointments with it are due to the frustrating underdevelopment of Australian film history which the editors have done so much to redress in other places. However other faults stem perhaps from an uncertainty about who would use this book and how. Ultimately it would have been a more useable book and not thereby more authoritarian if the editors had been more forthcoming with their own hypotheses about and signposts to the material. Even as it stands it is an indispensable source for anyone interested in understanding Australian cinema and working to make it better.


  1. With the exception of note no. 7 these endnotes were compiled by Tom O'Regan to clarify points for readers unfamiliar with the articles and names mentioned. This Australian Federal government ministry of "Environment, Aborigines and the Arts" was infamous principally because of its bringing together of such a diverse spread of progressive issues on a political agenda from Aborigines to "quality of life issues" such as ecology and the arts. It was set up under a conservative Liberal/Country Party coalition govermnent in part as a cynical way of showing concern in these areas whist containing the threat they posed to a conservative politics.

  2. John Tulloch, Legends ofthe Screen (Sydney: AFVCurrency Press, 1981).

  3. Andrew Pike, "The History of an Australian Film Production Company Cinesound, 1932-1970". M A. Diss., Australian National University, Canberra, 1972.

  4. Bill Routt, The Cinema of Charles Chauvel (videorecording, Sydney: Australian Film and Television School, 1982).

  5. See Stuart Cunningham, "The Text in Film History", Australian Journal of Screen Theory, nos, 17/18 (1986), pp.3448.

  6. Alan Stout was a great proselytizer for the documentary in the forties and fifties. He was one of the founders of the film society movement in post-war Australia and was a stalwart of it into the 1960s. As professor of philosophy at Sydney University at this time he lent his weight to the Greirsonian ideal of the documentary as a vehicle for social enlightenment in articles for The Sydney Morning Herald and the well-read Current Affairs Bulletin; Stanley Hawes' name is synonymous with government film production in the post-war period. He was head (producer-in-chief) of the federal govemment film unit for twenty-four years from 1948. Hawes oversaw the production of more than 500 films at the Unit (now called Film Australia). John Heyer was perhaps the most gifted of Australian documentarists. For a discussion of his significance to Australian fi]m history see Ross Gibson's discussion of Heyer's film The Back of Beyond in this volume.

  7. The Grierson memorandum makes an interesting comparison with a passage on p.95 of Ina Bertrand's and Diana Collins' book, Government and Film in Australia (Sydney: Currency Press, 1981). There, Bertrand and Collins attribute the identical words to the statement issued by the National Films Council (NPC), a body which, as indicated in the very useful Stanley Hawes interview (p.82) was a trade organisation substantially opposed to the establishment of a government film organisation which it saw as a danger to their domination of Australian screens. Grierson had hinted in his memorandum (p.77), that if American film interests did not voluntarily comply with government intentions, then they should be coerced. Berlrand and Collins imply that the program put forward by the NFC was originated by them, whereas it is clear from Grierson's memorandum that they had simply taken over his prescriptions. (Grierson visited Australia in March-May1940 and the NFC document was issued in July of the same year.)

  8. Stephen Wallace is perhaps better known as the film director of Love Letters from Teralba Road (1977);Stir (1980); and For Love Alone (1986).

  9. See Albert Moran, "Australian Documentary Cinema," Arena, no. 64 (1983) pp.83-99. Moran's more recent work on Australian documentary can be seen in both this volume with "Nation Building: The Post-War Documentary, 1945-1953" and in "Documentary Consensus" in Tom O'Regan ~ Brian Shoesmith eds. History on/and/in Film (Perth: History and Film Association of Australia, 1987).

  10. Colin Benett was film critic in the 1960s and 1970s for the quality Melbourne daily The Age; whilst P.P. McGuinness was film critic in the seventies for the weekly The National Times published out of Sydney.

  11. 10BA was a controversial amendment to Australian income tax law designed to make cheap capital readily available to a failing film production industry in 1979/80. In some ways it was initially too successful attracting criticism for being a legalized tax shelter for tax evaders. Its provisions have been gradually watered down over the past six years as federal governments sought to project a concem for a fairer income system.

  12. The Australian Film Development Corporation (AFDC) and the Exprimental Film Fund (EFF) were two of the three institutions set up to foster an Australian film industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The third was the Australian Film and TV School. The AFDC was concerned primarily with commercial propositions - i.e. feature films; whilst the EFF had an ambiguous role as both "nurturer" of future talent for feature production and as the facilitator of experimentation in the medium. Both were later incorporated into the Australian Film Commission (AFC) as the Project Development Branch and the Creadve Development Branch respectively.

  13. Tony Ginnane gained an industry profile as a producer of avowedly "commercial"films. He began producing soft-core porn, moved into exploitation films and thrillers and is now an advocate of international co-productions particularly with Hollywood support. Ginnane produced films with Richard Franklin as his director, and frequently locked horns with Actors Equity's Uri Windt over his plans for using Hollywood and European stars as a means of securing pre-sales. Franklin was perhaps the most thoughtful advocate of international filmmaking. His films include Roadgames (1981); Patrick (1978); and Psycho 2 (1983). Joe Skrzynski was the merchant banker brought in to head the AFC in 1979. He was in charge of the implementation of the 1979 Peat Marwick and Mitchell report into the operations and activities of the AFC. This report advocated an increased reliance upon international box office receipts and a gearing of the Australian industry towards "the market" rather than "film culture" to accomplish those ends.

  14. Editor's note. Cinema Papers were in fact approached for copyright clearances for articles. The editor refused to give any clearances. The reasons for this refusal were never given. They were the only group approached which did not permit re-printing of their articles (Tom O'Regan).

  15. Sue Mathews, American Dreams, Australian Movies (Sydney: Currency Press,1986).

  16. Sue Mathews, 35 mm Dreams (Ringwood: Penguin, 1984).

  17. David Stratton, The Last New Wave (Sydney: Angus Robertson, 1980).

  18. Amanda Lohrey, "Gallipoli: Male lnnocence as a Marketable Commodity", Island, nos 9/10 (1982), pp.29-39.

  19. The Sydney Film Makers Co-op was the most significant of the film co-ops that sprang up in major metropolitan centres in the late 1960s early 1970s. It has provided a valuable film distribution and exhibition outlet initially for avant-garde and experimental films and later for political feminist and other alternative narrative and non-narrative film practices. The influential publication Filmnews was an outgrowth of the organisation. The Co-op's cinema closed down in 1981 and the Co-op itself folded in February 1986 after going into provisional liquidation in December 1985. It was a great loss to Australian film culture.

  20. Helen Grace, ' The Creative Under-development of Australian Independent Film Since 1960s;" John Cruthers & James Kesteven, "Cheques and Balances - the Present Operation of the Creative Development Fund," both Filmnews, Nov./Dec.(1982).

  21. Albie Thoms, Polemics for a New Cinema (Sydney: Wild & Woolley, 1978).

  22. Felicity Collins, " Following the AFI", Filmnews, Apri/May (1983), pp 4-7,18 and "We Aim to Please", Filmnews, July (1984), pp.l2-14, 16-17.

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