The Politics of Representation: An Analysis of the Australian Film Revival

Tom O'Regan

Chapter 1

Writing an Australian film history:
some methodological notes

How can Australian film in the sixties and seventies be looked at - that is to say, how can we understand the multi-faceted instances of Australian film in reviewing and cultural criticism, in training and film production, in exhibition and distribution and in film policy making and lobbying? It can be said that 'Australian filmÕ is a collection of all these elements. Sometimes complementary and sometimes antagonistic to each other, it is their combination - their accumulation and interrelation - that makes up Australian film' as we know it.

These elements are different in both form and content. Take practices, like film reviewing and film policy making; they have their own rhetorical shape and their own institutional trajectories, but the shifting relations between them do have some bearing on directions taken. Such changes and shifts give to Australian film' its historical face.

For this reason, this study of Australian film will not consist of a single linear history, but a series of histories. It will be a series of descriptions of relations between discursive and institutional conditions and the transformations of those conditions. Put another way, this writing will be a complex amalgam of these stories: stories about strategies - of film production, of investment in film, of exhibition and distribution; stories about discourses - on film, on Australian culture, on Australian society; stories about institutions - governments, film bodies, exhibitors, reviewing.

Before undertaking this task certain guidelines need to be outlined. To do so it will be useful to briefly examine some of the particulars of Australian film and to look at other approaches to public discourses within the media to show why the approach advocated here has been taken.

Certain concepts need to be borrowed from discourse analysis and film theory. These are 'discourse', 'agenda', the 'circulation of discourse' and 'the film complex'. Discourse is defined as a set of statements, concepts and ideas in their textual form, while the film complex is understood as the institutions of production, exhibition and distribution and their attendant discourses. Part and parcel of this are strategies - ways of dealing with film: whether as a market commodity, as an economic or cultural product, or as an item under governmental patronage. Agenda is the field within which discourses appear. It concerns this complex and its component parts, as well as talk about film and the films themselves. Notions are put on the agenda and as a consequence, a certain self evidence is given to them. The circulation of discourses refers to the way statements emerge in different places serving different ends and possessing distinct meanings there. The way discourses circulate is related to the disposition of the film complex. How they are utilised is thus a matter of tactics, struggle and consensus. These notions can be elaborated in the context of Australian film.


The discourses of Australian film are heterogeneous. They are concrete, internally differentiated, and occur in divergent writing and viewing practices. Audiences deal with them in many ways. They occur in public texts - such as rationales for both entertainment and government funding - and they possess a coherence, but not of the kind associated with, say, a philosophical treatise. These texts are different sorts of discourse with their own conditions of intelligibility and in order to be understood they require a different approach than say an article in a scholarly journal.

As Meaghan Morris notes, many intellectuals are ready to concede that 'the work of Jean Luc Godard may be analysed as a textual reproduction', but are not able to submit the work of a critic such as Pauline Kael to the same treatment.[1] Morris then goes on to describe reviewing as a writing practice. She ends by saying that:

A review is a signifying element in the discourse of the medium in which it appears. It is not a parasite on the film industry nor an extension of a personality, but a bit of a newspaper, a journal, a radio program, a television show.[2]

If we concede that not only reviewing, but also journalism, journalistic comment on the film industry, article writing, market research, policy papers, and parliamentarians' speeches are also writing practices, then we are moving towards some kind of understanding of Australian film as a public reality.

Taking such an approach means that it would be wrong to call up the varied discourses of Australian film before the bar of epistemology to ascribe truth or falsity to them. Many of the problems intellectuals have with the public domain of statements - not necessarily about films - involve making fundamental category mistakes about the kind of discourse being dealt with. Arguments are paraphrased, concepts criticised and their implications denounced in the name of knowledge, as if the discourses in question were abstract but pervasive ideas that could be refuted. They are not. They are firmly situated within and inseparable from their historical situation.

But it is very easy to approach film journalism, parliamentary reports and fan mail as if they were all making or attempting to make the same kind of statement about the cinema as Christian Metz. What gets produced is a compendium of criticisms of (invalid) assumptions, implications, incoherence, ideologies, that flatter the more rigorous language and insights of film studies. This kind of thing is habitually done in first year film teaching where notions of 'common sense' understandings are engaged. A dialogue and polemic develops which is important to any inculcation of a technical (ie. unfamiliar, uncommon) language. This is part of institutional practice.

Such a polemic however, does not help to focus on the workings of those heterogenous discourses of Australian film. If these discourses are invited to formulate valid definitions of film, they are being asked to undertake practices of textual writing and object constitution that they do not do. They are being asked to step outside the contexts which gave them their force. They are not equivalent practices to be found less than equal to an analytical, or indeed political gaze, they are practices indifferent kinds of writing.

A purely conceptual analysis of public discourses winds up collapsing discourses into concepts through paraphrasing them - although they are both different notions. One 'abstracts', quite wrongly, the argument from the discourse and then assumes that outcomes follow and have historically followed from that (argument) discourse. But outcomes follow from the textual as well as contextual appearance of that discourse, not from its operation in and of itself as a conceptual argument.[3] The mistake is already in place because discourse has been turned into arguments and concepts that can now be treated and evaluated (as if it were the work of an opponent in a debate). The analysis corrects the discourse, reformulates it, using applicable criteria, and is then satisfied because errors, inconsistencies, and contradictions have all been located. All that is required is that a 'new discourse' - without the wrong headedness of the former be set in place - albeit after some vested interest resistance to it by reviewers, the media and film policy makers. It's neat, it's tidy, but it does not even begin to understand the dynamics of cultural production.

Apply this method to the cultural nationalist discourses which are present in Australian film reviewing, policy making and cultural criticism and what is overlooked is that these discourses are different entities when endorsed in a university seminar (as, say, a principle of textual or social intelligibility) to when they are made to think the possibility of a base for feature film production in the public arena.[4] Cultural nationalism is not simply reiterated, it is reformed, recreated in its acts of enunciation.

The emergence of cultural nationalist notions in Australian film in the 1960s should not now be taken as meaning that misguided criteria were being used for the understanding, the assessing, the creating and the intervening in cultural praxis. They were not mistakes - brooking either better policies or great texts founded on adequate aesthetic assumptions (pace Leonie Kramer).[5] Rather, their emergence upon the public agenda was due to particular discursive and institutional conditions which were neither logical nor evaluative in any strict sense. Their prevalence was the product of struggle, tactics, impermanent coalitions, conflict and of certain discourses lending themselves to transformation, extension and repetition. The particular roles that these cultural nationalist notions played, cannot be evident in advance. It is thus essential to suspend any intellectual antipathy to them to see what they do - how they function in this or that instance.

An example will show the active and indeed coherent role that the very heterogeneity of a discourse may play. The agitational discourse of the sixties and seventies was articulated by Lawson, Thornhill, Bennett and Long in Nation, The Australian, The Age and documentaries. It brought together a number of notions about film and its social uses: film was the popular art form of the twentieth century; it had an important role to play in the cultural development of the nation; it was a significant element in the development of export trade; it had an important function in maintaining and refining a progressive sense of national pride.[6]

There was no necessary relation between these different elements yet they formed a mandate for a film industry. Their potentially different aims were subsumed as so many more arguments for feature film production in Australia. To all intents and purposes, then, they were identical: different notions presenting an irresistible case for the desired object. Now this point would be missed if the sole focus was on the conceptual (in)coherence or contradictions between these notions. For it was their organisation together which produced the effect of a coherent, forceful, and appealing case for Australian film. There may, in short, be necessary relations between elements that are not necessarily related. To understand their effective combination, it is necessary to look to the conditions under which they can be brought together.

In an article in Screen, 'Art, Culture and Quality - Terms for a Cinema in the 40s and 70s', John Ellis attempts to deal with just such a heterogeneity of discourse.[7] Ellis analyses the 'discourse of those film critics who used and promoted the conception of the 'quality' British films between 1942 and 1949'.[8] These critics were writing in British quality dailies and weeklies such as Daily Mail, Times, New Statesman and Tribune. He looks at both their construction of the nature of the cinema and its potentialities for society, and their related support for a particular kind of existing British cinema. His analysis is seen as:

a contribution to the study of largely unexamined notions that figure both in the practice of the cinema and in submissions to the Dep't of Trade: notions of art cinema', quality film', British cinema'.[9]

Ellis describes his textual practice as '... a kind of attentive listening' which tries to ... transcribe the various random comments and remarks of different individuals into the complete systematisation that they were never given'.[10] He sees himself repeating and systematising in the process, the discourses of these critics rather than providing a polemical criticism of them. He looks at the discourse of art and quality. As he puts it:

The analysis ... shows the way in which at a particular time the notion or quality film' was constituted. It shows the way in which the quality film' is produced by a whole network of terms in a particular organisation.[11]

Ellis does not claim this 'quality film' discourse to be homogeneous nor does he merely recite its terms without reference to their institutional emergence. But he does systematise the critics' discourse in order to uncover the elements of a discourse being presently used in government and independent film makers' proposals for restructuring the British film industry. Ellis does focus on these critics' discourse as one common to past and present. This allows the discourse he systematises to stand in a generative capacity with regard to individual appearances whether in the work of particular film critics or in the film production policy discourse of the Department of Trade.

But the emergence and re-emergence of these critical notions are not parts of a systematic tendency. They are, rather, effective combinations of elements in two quite different institutional and temporal conjunctures. Consequently, less emphasis could be placed on discourse as a system and more on the way that these similar discursive figures circulated. What would be then registered was how the elements of the critics' discourse were fragmented and articulated in relation to the different institutions of the film complex. That is, the discourse would be seen as text(s) in institutional contexts, not as symptoms of a general paradigm (the traces of which can be discerned in present institutional practice). Quite simply, these fragments of discourse are being repeated in different conjunctures. It is to these conjunctures and not this single discourse that we should look.

Whilst Ellis is at pains to point out that he cannot reveal the precise definition of quality film in the present, he still conceives 'quality cinema' more in terms of a stable discursive organisation than an unstable set of statements persisting on different institutional horizons (eg. film criticism, Department of Trade, film making) amidst and alongside other clusters of statements (eg. aesthetics, policy discourses, professional ideologies). He cites heterogeneity only to unify it again, mistaking the effect of coherence produced by its writing, reading and appropriation by critics, film policy makers and audiences for a meaningful conceptual stability. It becomes the portable discourse of art, culture and quality, not a discourse that happens to be repeated in always particular ways where it is part of different practices; where it is alongside other sorts of statements and is repeated for different motives. For instance, the way funding bodies and critics 'recognise' and 'know' the discourse of art, culture and quality is not the same. The 'same' words might be used but they have different meaning effects. There is a difference between a service (official) language and a critical language. That difference and the implications of it are downplayed by Ellis.

The same set of statements then are often used in different institutional and discursive contexts but it is misleading to make much of that fact. Take an extreme example: it is the case that fundamentalists, charismatics, catholics, protestants and jews all make use of the Old Testament. But to focus on that collection of texts will not tell you much about how they are used, read, interpreted and made the base for behaviour in different moral and spiritual programs. There are resemblances as well as differences. So too for the discourse of culture, art and quality that Ellis examines. For both there is a need to go beyond the assumptions inherent in the text/discourse to its many and varied forms of circulation.


It has been noted that discourses are not only both contrasting and contradictory, but they also have multiple institutional articulations. They circulate before diverse publics by different means. The agitational discourse on Australian film was circulated in newspapers and journal publications (Quadrant, Meanjin, Masque), in parliamentary debates, in the Report of the Film Committee of the Australian Council for the Arts, and in the lobbying of the government by an institution especially formed for that task: the Australian Film Council.[12] What can be made then of this circulation?

One approach sees such recurrences - whether in the campaigning for a film industry or in the subsequent government aid to feature film production - as evidence of a general consensus on the objects and priorities. This brings together institutions, practices and writings which are culturally quite diverse. The evident mobility of statements is thus used to coordinate the whole film complex. In the process, however, the film complex is falsely rendered intelligible and ascribed a degree of integration it does not in fact possess. Too much gets taken at face value. The fact is ignored that different institutions can often have their own reasons for sustaining these discourses. Two examples from recent film studies can be used to illustrate how this happens: firstly, the work of Sheila Johnston on the new German cinema and, secondly, that of Ina Bertrand and Diane Collins on government and Australian film.[13]

In her article, 'The Author as Public Institution', Johnston focuses on the so-called German film revival of the sixties and seventies where authorship was the site of intersection for government policy on film, its production, criticism and culture. There, it was espoused in various ways: through a feature and avant-garde film making expressing the author's perceptions about the world and his/her materials; and through a television (TV) programming policy encouraging the independent production of programs expressing the film maker's viewpoint on an issue.

Because she sees authorship as generating the structure of the German cinema, she needs to account for its origins and causes in order to explain that cinema's shape and trajectory. Consequently, she sees the authorship discourse as stemming from an ideological posture with origins in the cultural life of the nation. This was the desire to break with the past (including a shameful post-war cinema).[14] This desire found its articulation in the 'autor' discourse adopted and promoted by a group of young lobbyists and film makers. Although she does not quite support the notion that the new German cinema was one 'more or less conjured into existence by a handful of young lobbyists', she still accords a significant role to them as representing a wider discontent: 'in some ways the movement was spontaneous, as a post-war generation, deeply critical of what they contemptuously dubbed "papa's cinema", came of age'.[15]

Johnston thus finds an origin for the circulation of particular discourses and their institutional articulation in those very elements (from the public agenda) which are her objects of analysis. Instead of placing 'the desire for an absolute break with the past' in the quotation marks it needs, she takes it at face value and even explains it by reference to the well worn acute shame at the [cinema] heritage'. Similarly, instead of giving the conditions under which a spontaneous movement can emerge and be sustained, she uses the journalistic constructions and promotional language of the new German cinema to explain both the lobbyists' role and more generally the cinema itself.

Problems also arise from the relative weight that she assigns to the autor discourse in constructing the institutions of the new German cinema. Although situating discourse within a set of institutional and discursive relations, she talks of 'central weaknesses' in the argument of the 'autor film' in order to ask the concept of authorship to resolve important questions about the place of the author 'in the legal and economic relations of film production'.[16] It is disappointing to her that these questions are never resolved. By interrogating the 'autor argument' in this way she is asking the new German cinema to answer questions of which it cannot take account. Cultural and industrial complexes do not, as a rule, ask themselves theoretical questions about the status of author in the relations of their production, or question themselves seriously about the weaknesses or strengths of their arguments. It is Sheila Johnston, and not the complex she is dealing with, who asks these questions. Her analysis uses this complex to construct the importance of these questions, just as in the second instance she uses particular discourses of the complex in isolation to construct the weaknesses of the autor argument. Her problems arise from authorship being seen as a uniform discourse able to emerge and structure diverse institutional spaces. This ignores the fact that the different institutions of the 'new German cinema' (lobbying, government, reviewing) allowed this discourse to emerge and be sustained on their own horizons out of conditions specific to teach of them. These conditions and the effects flowing from them are not reducible to either the general social conditions the discourse gave effect to, or the assumptions inherent in the discourse itself.

Similar problems are present in Ina Bertrand and Diane Collins' book, Government and Film in Australia. In this admittedly brief history of governmental relations with film, Bertrand and Collins take the presence of certain notions and their increasing adoption by governments in the late seventies to be the explanation for the concrete programs of government support they map out. These notions revolved around 'film as a cultural artefact, reflecting and influencing Australian cultural life'.[17] By pursuing the presence rather than the play of these notions in 'parliamentary and community debates', they are able to construct a consensus that gives their analysis its shape. They thus come to see the government film subsidies of the seventies as stemming from the fact that:

Federal governments, with their claims to represent the nation as a whole, found these [cultural nationalist] arguments persuasive and [so] increasingly accepted responsibility for film and the film industry.18

By focussing upon the fact of their iteration in these different sectors, a sense of the differential discursive and institutional articulation of these notions within these sectors is reduced. In its stead, a set of common assumptions, albeit with uneven effects, is seen to be evident.

Despite the fact that the 'concept of Australian culture' was not used with any 'sophistication' in these debates, the concept is seen to have effectivity inasmuch as governments adopted it.[19] In this way, the terms of debate (whilst approached with a certain irony) function by default as evidence of themselves. Discourses on culture tend to evidence a wider concern for culture while those on nationalism evidence a certain nationalistic outlook. And the present iteration of discourses on film art by government, educationalists and lobbyists make up a recognition of film for itself which was, unfortunately, not present earlier:

... neither the film makers nor the loyalist moralist lobby in the 20's showed much interest in promoting film as an expressive art form: had they developed this potential common ground they might have found stronger bargaining power for all their causes.[20]

By taking this standpoint, Bertrand and Collins miss the point that these notions function. Rather than performing the narrative as the guiding assumptions of and justifications for governmental support for film they were put to work in diverse institutional and discursive settings. Consequently as material of repetition, they should be conceived, not as evidence of a sameness of outlook, but as evidence of a more particular contingent repetition in difference across the broad spectrum of community and government.

The point is not to register a reiteration, but to see how a discourse is (re)formed, (re)credited and (re)created in its enunciative act(s). Evaluating the meaning of discourse should not be undertaken in advance of historical investigation. The same characterisation of Australian film in diverse public discussions such as reports, reviews and controversies, is not likely to be a sign of consensus but more likely to be the site at which contradictions and disjunctions between different institutions and even with the same institution are in evidence. For that framework of statements, of discursive terms, provides a terrain on which disputation can proceed.

If Bertrand and Collins had done this, they might have been able to chart the specific conditions of emergence of these discourses rather than just note that a shift in the terms of debate permitted subsidised production. Any analysis of the film complex which reduces its common rhetoric to a set of founding assumptions would be equally problematic. This is because assumptions, attributes and intentions are somehow prior, by definition, to the social existence of discourse. Rather than seeking the particular ways a discourse functions within a strategic and institutional field, the existence of the discourse - its assumptions and its coherence - becomes the explanation of that field. Discourses are part of the material of many different and interlocking discursive and institutional configurations. They circulate upon agenda and their emergence on these various agenda is due to particular contingent/historical conditions.


The conditions for the production of discourse are multiple and varied. Colin Gordon, writing about Foucault's understanding of discourse suggests that the conditions are not unified and do not coexist in a hierarchy:

These conditions - concepts and objects, institutions and practices - are different in kind among themselves and bear no resemblance to the form of the discourse they determine, yet they are all equally contingent historical realities.[21]

Gordon's remarks are particularly apt for an examination of the public agenda of Australian film where the determinations operating on the production of discourses are multi-faceted.

The polemical writings of Sylvia Lawson in the sixties, for example, can be taken as an instance of the way a discourse can only emerge under very particular conditions within diverse institutional and discursive configurations. Her articles for Quadrant, Nation and Nation Review articulated the agitational discourse mentioned earlier.[22] But before Lawson's articles could be published, written and appreciated by audiences, the agitational discourse they contained had to complement, transform and coexist with other discourses.

Journal editors and their audiences, for instance, had to already be predisposed to consider publishing and reading an article that urged the re-establishment of the film industry. A major contribution to such a situation was the discourse of an Australian cultural lack - that cluster of statements around the notion that Australia lacked, but needed culture. In this discourse, Australians were described as unappreciative of the arts; their environment was inimical to artistic practice and because of the subsequent lack of any domestic opportunities, Australia's best creative talent was going overseas.[23] These notions, registered as self-evident facts, became material not only for a Senate inquiry but for the content of commercial TV programs and newspaper comment. Something had to be done about maintaining and creating a base for cultural activity in Australia. An active policy was needed to produce culture as a presence. Remedies were sought in coordinated government action and in response, subsidies to the arts became a potent issue. The discourse of lack was thus an important element informing the push for increases in the levels of arts subsidies. The feature film agitation gained credence from it. If Australia lacked a performing arts culture, it also lacked a film culture. If government subsidies were to be given to these art forms, they should be given to the cinema as well. In this, they were helped by the fact that, in the general cultural program that was emerging at this time, a film production sector had an important role to play. The Vincent Report (1963), a Senate report on Australian TV and its lack of local programming, asserted that a film production sector was pivotal to any integration and expansion of the Arts.[24] A film production industry for TV was seen as a way of providing employment and training for Australian actors, writers, playwrights, drama directors/producers, musicians and even dancers. The development of such an industry would enable an Australian base of creative personnel to be built up and it would stabilise other forms of cultural production - and in the main the performing arts.[25]

In the feature film agitation these priorities were modified somewhat. The feature film was the essential cultural prerequisite - rather than a film production industry for TV. It would not only provide employment for creative personnel and maintain other arts forms, but it would also allow for an Australian acknowledgement of the art form of the cinema.[26]

So, just as journal editors had to be disposed to publish articles urging a new film industry, the Gorton government's initial actions to set up an industry had similarly to wait: recommendations had to firstly be made by an appropriately constituted body (the Film Committee of the Arts Council).[27] These recommendations had to fit the policy agenda of the government and they needed a good chance of being electorally popular. In these different contexts the agitational discourse was able to function as a nodal point in cultural policy making by government, in the submissions and public promotion of industry bodies and in the textual practices of film reviews. It was put on the public agenda and by being put there it became self evident to a general public.

From this example a number of general observations can be made. Discourse has an inescapably social character. It is part of a different agenda and it circulates within different contexts. In these contexts it has different conditions for being articulated, it makes sense and plays its social role in relation to its institutional and discursive context. Rather than being mere rhetoric, discourse has a strategic dimension. Particular notions about film, and the place of Australian film for its public, served not only as a means to understand film, but also to legislate an industry into existence, to lobby state and federal governments about the necessity for an industry and to formulate oppositional strategies of film making.


The coming into and going out of self evidence are the stakes in the emergence and circulation of discourse. What is self evident is transient, thrown up and cast off by the cluster of interrelated conditions of the times. Positions, speculations and descriptions of Australian film are spoken with both the definitive authority of truth and understanding, and with the assurance of spontaneity - but they are nonetheless historically produced; they are contingent realities.

When the public agenda of Australian film is examined, the aim is to try to penetrate this self evidence to uncover what Foucault has usefully called:

the connections, encounters, supports, blockages, plays of forces, strategies, which at a given moment establish what subsequently counts as being self evident.[28]

This idea of self evidenced can be pursued by another example in Australian film. It involves the way that the segmentation of the film industry into exhibition, distribution and production became important in forming a production industry in Australia. This segmentation which was neither particularly meaningful, nor relevant to begin with, made it possible to think a place for an Australian film production sector. Politicians and other cultural and broader publics had to be trained to recognise two industries, two opposed interests: a production industry and an exhibition/distribution industry in a single Australian film industry. They had to learn to distinguish between the two.[29]

When this segmentation became meaningful, equality and fair dealing between the two 'industries' could be mounted as an issue by the production industry agitation. In this way a practically non existent film production industry effectively campaigned to have itself recognised by government and the media alike as the voice of the Australian film industry. The idea of special aid to this sector depended upon the construction, thence public recognition, of film production as a needy, disadvantaged sector as opposed to the advantaged exhibition/distribution sector.

This idea of separate industries with opposing interests and priorities was circulated before diverse publics: to government by lobbying, to cultural readers through journals, film reviews and quality newspaper articles, to popular audiences through the mass circulation tabloids and TV. A polemical cultural criticism was aligned with mainstream commercial industry bodies (like the Producers and Director's Guild of Australia) in the umbrella organisations of the Australian Film Council.[30]

In the case of government, there was a basis for the recognition of the exhibition and distribution industry in standard contracts between distributors and exhibitors that the various state governments ratified. But owing to the weak structural position of independent exhibitors vis-a-vis the larger cinema chains, their complaints about these standard contracts had ceased to be a significant bone of contention in a shrinking cinema market. These complaints had to be attached to the film production lobby before they gained any wide currency.

Government recognition of the film industry up until the late sixties did not include Australian feature film production. Nor was the presence of the commercial industry registered except in the quite public censorship controversies of the time. Thus the legitimate needs and grievances of the film production sector (indeed its very existence) had to be and were put on the government's agenda.

A measure of government recognition of production was the brief given to the Tariff Board in 1973 to investigate ways and means of assisting an Australian film production industry.[31] Following much of the agitation, the Board confirmed the necessity of production subsidies. It also came to see distortions in film exhibition and distribution within Australia as requiring remedial action.[32] It came to this conclusion in response to the nature of the 'evidence' presented by the various parties that appeared before it (film producers, directors, exhibition chains and independent exhibitors, distributors, critics and so on) and in accordance with the evaluative mechanisms it had sedimented within it. As an economic advisory institution, it was already predisposed to see the industry in a certain way and to seek precedents (such as the American anti-trust litigation of the forties and fifties) as models to think the relation between ownership and the access of 'independent' non Hollywood film production to the Australian market. Preferring solutions within the market rather than direct subsidisation through box office levies or tax concessions, it produced a set of highly controversial recommendations for structural change in the market place.

In the years that followed, the emphasis upon film production and a film production industry remained, but the idea that the market was fundamentally distorted did not continue to have the same high profile. Film producers such as Tony Ginnane and Tim Burstall, who had earlier supported the Board's recommendations came within a short period of time to actually support the exhibition/distribution status quo.[33] These people were not simply 'bought off'; they were operating with different conceptions of the market and different notions about what was possible within it. They saw in the cinema chains, a potent and easy way of gaining access to the Australian cinema market - in first and residual release.[34] Market distortions then no longer informed their understanding of the complexion of the film market. The Board's recommendations therefore were not as self evident and essential as they once were.

The Tariff Board's programs did not simply disappear. They were still meaningful, but to fewer people. The notion of a distorted market and the recommendations for an overhaul of the contractual arrangements between exhibition and distribution were taken up by the Trade Practices Commission and in particular, by one of its Commissioners, V.G. Venturini.[35] There, the standard contract was considered in the light of the Trade Practices Act and the investigatory technologies of that ill-fated commission. It was deemed to be uncompetitive and to disadvantage independent exhibitors.[36]

In the main however, the Board's understanding of how the cinema market could and indeed needed to be changed persisted in the late seventies and early eighties on the margins of film production, in some cultural criticism and amongst the industrial union, Actors Equity. For them the exhibition/distribution status quo prevented the diverse cinema they individually advocated from being put before the public. Without a public profile their desired productions - non-commercial/independent, socially committed, lower budget and quality/art films could not become popular.[37] The Tariff Report as a government document lent a truth to this assertion. Access to playdates would, and the report 'proved' this, follow from a reduction in the power of the chains along the lines given. It would also mean a greater circulation of films (Australian and non-Australian) in the Australian market.[38]

This example demonstrates how the same notion - that of a distorted market privileging exhibition/distribution over production - can appear in different contexts where it can emerge, persist or lapse in relation to different practices, representations and institutions. It can be transformed in the process of being recontextualised. It is thus necessary to identify a discourse, a text in relation to its strategic function in a field of forces.[39] Of concern are the specific relations - not any general originating, expressive relations - through which a discourse is articulated and exists in relation to other discourses and institutions.


'The strategic dimension of discourse' has already been noted in this text. 'Strategic' has two senses in this expression. Firstly, there are strategies of enunciation and secondly there are outcomes; different kinds of effectivity and political investment flowing from and implicated within the production of discourse. This second aspect of discourse, its function in so many plans of action, can be more explicitly addressed in relation to the concept of the film complex, understood as the existing institutions of production, exhibition and distribution and their attendant discourses. It is an umbrella term encompassing the different elements that make up the film industry.

On an institutional level, there are the diverse media organisations: the exhibitors, Hoyts, Greater Union, Village; the distributors, Roadshow, British Empire Film (BEF); the professional groups, the Film and TV Producers Association (F&TPAA), the Australian Writers Guild (AWG); the film production organisations, the state and federal film corporations, Filmco, Edgley, the Trade Unions, Actors Equity (Equity), Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees Association; and the governments themselves, state and federal.

On a level of institutional practices, there are the activities of distributing, exhibiting, producing, advertising, reviewing, lobbying, disbursing and raising production funds, film policy making and governing. Formal organisations need not be the only ones doing these activities. For example, lobbying might be done by informal groups, like Lawson's film criticism, as well as organisations especially set up for the task.

On the level of discourse there are the diverse texts about Australian film, its market and audience and cultural and economic policy. This discursive elaboration makes up the agenda of the film complex.

The film complex, as an assemblage of institutions, practices, concepts and strategies involves the formation of film policy, exhibition, distribution and the production and promotion of films and film reviewing. Its forms and trajectory lie in the specific articulation of these discourses, practices and institutions.

Film reviewing, market research and government film policy making all construct different objects but they can nonetheless be integrated so as to complement each other, just as they can, under certain circumstances, be inimical to each other. There is no general form to either their integration or their disjunction.

There is a conceptual difference between the quality newspaper reviewing of film as a cultural and aesthetic form and the Peat Marwick and Mitchell Management Services' (hereafter PMM) consideration of film as a market commodity.[40] But this difference only became a point of contestation when the market nature of film was associated with a different notion of what constituted commercial film making than had previously been the case. Prior to PMM, there had been little sense of an intrinsic, even implacable opposition between the two. More often than not, the aesthetic circulation of film was untroubled by its market aspect. Indeed at one stage, the business aspect of film was positively promoted as a precondition of the aesthetic achievements of the cinema, showing that both can be and are often complementary to each other.[41] They are part of the system of command in which the cinema comes into existence and is sustained as an ongoing institution.

The fact that technologies of dominant film exhibition may not involve considerations of the cinema as an art form indicates the existence and persistence of different strategies in the Australian film complex. It does not show an inherent contradiction in the system itself. Rather, it shows the system working through the accretion of separate rationalities and strategies, such that practices of commercial distribution which routinize a film's market trajectory have their own arena of jurisdiction as does film criticism. A film and the market in which it is to be inserted are codified in prescriptive ways to enable a film's release to be both orderly and predictable. Now these kinds of exhibition practices can coexist or oppose the values of film criticism in specific ways in the film complex. The same thing can be said about the relation between other activities in the film complex (eg. policy making). Both the accumulation of these activities and their interrelation with each other gives Australian film its particular form within the complex.

These activities, these various ways of dealing with film have a discursive component integral to their operation. The action of particular planning discourses, the effects of ways of understanding film and its (potential) viability can be seen in the physical complexion of Australian cinema (its buildings, its employment of people, its circulation of prints). The film industry is not an autonomous entity, a kind of bedrock with its own intrinsic direction that is washed around by a crumble of (changing) discourses. It is made up of a collection of programs of action - strategies with a rationality behind them and a set of effects flowing from their application.


The rationalities of the film industry can be defined in Foucault's terms as:

... sets of calculated, reasoned prescriptions in terms of which institutions are meant to be reorganised, spaces arranged [and] behaviours regulated.[42]

In keeping with its attention to the specificity of discourses, this thesis will seek (in examining such things as the economic, market aspect of the industry) the economic rationalities and programs specific to it. The market nature of Australian film is not any one solid thing. It is neither a unitary nor an extrahistorical principle of intelligibility but a highly differentiated set of objects. An example will demonstrate this.

Economic knowledges were an integral part of both the PMM inquiry into the Australian Film Commission FC) in 1979 and the Tariff Board's investigation of the film industry in 1972/3. These knowledges were central to the film production strategy each evolved. The 'market nature' of film was not however the same thing for both. The way the film market was recognised as an object diverged in accordance with the different economic rationalities put into play by each.

PMM recognised the limitations of the Australian box office to support an Australian feature film industry through averaging the revenue available to English speaking features within the local market. The low figure they obtained from this averaging led them to espouse an orientation on the part of the Australian film industry towards the global market. The industry should expect to get some 60% of its returns from overseas sale and some 40% from Australian. To achieve this it advocated the professionalisation of film promotion, production and selling. Personnel in all sectors of the industry needed to acquire a set of market oriented competences for the desired end of economic viability of the film industry to be achieved.[43]

The Tariff Board on the other hand, saw the domestic Australian theatrical market as fundamentally distorted.[44] On the basis of this understanding, it recommended the adoption of a more competitive, less monopolistic order. A number of measures would achieve this objective. Firstly, there needed to be a restructuring of the ownership of theatrical exhibition such that one chain or a number of chains would not dominate; secondly, the distributor/exhibitor links of ownership and contract that tied distributor product to particular exhibitors needed to be discontinued. The dominance of the chains through their exhibition/distribution links were, apparently, to the detriment of Australian film producers and the smaller, usually Australian owned exhibitors. The Australian market, through these measures was to be opened up to Australian film producers and local capital in exhibition in a way that was not available previously. The viability of the film production industry was thus tied to a program of eradicating market distortions.

These different economic programs did not take effect in any integrated fashion. In considering PMM, the government adopted some but not all of its recommendations. Whilst the end result did not exactly conform to its program, there were nonetheless, a number of permanent effects which make sense in terms of the rationality of the report. The Tariff Report, on the other hand, was not taken up at all. With these economic programs, things do not work out in precisely the way they are planned. The fact that they do not is a function, not of their intrinsic utopianism as plans of action, but of their different contingent employment within the institutions of the film complex. The PMM Report and the Tariff Report articulated different strategies for the film industry. The government and the media took these reports up in a number of ways, contextualising them differently. Consequently, it is necessary to seek their distinct realities in often different agenda.

It could be argued that the Tariff Board's explanations were closer to the mark than PMM's empty rhetoric of commercialism. But this thesis is not particularly concerned with evaluating competing economic explanations of the film industry against its reality. Rather, it is concerned to note their individual efficacy in particular contexts, to trace their relation (complementary or disjunctive) with other concurrent economic rationalities. As such, it does not pursue so much the 'right' description and its economic conditions which could then serve to rank the rest as so many ideological discourses. It pursues instead, a more limited question of how, at a given moment, certain recognitions of the film industry as a market were possible and how on the basis of this, specific programs were urged to be, or were actually put into effect.


A related issue arises when dealing with the role of the state in Australian film production. This is so because the film revival has been dependent upon it, initially for proportions of its production funds, and later for generous tax relief to underwrite production. Its centrality could easily lead us, as it has lead others, to propose a general set of effects flowing from the state's consistent support.[45] Rohdie, for instance regards the state's continuing support to feature production in the light of a more general pandering to multi-national corporations (and capital). This support facilitated, he argues, not so much a national cinema but a highly dependent conservative one promoted in part by the USA. Being dependent by definition, Australian film expresses these neo-colonialist conditions.[46]

His analysis is concerned with large regularities. In fact, the kind of phenomena dealt with in this thesis would be regarded as at worst epiphenomena to, and at best symptomatic of, a set of generative conditions relating to the Australian state, its place within the world system and its relation to international capital.[47] Such a level of explanation ignores the public agenda; its effects upon film and the formation of film policy and the relatively independent spheres within which film personnel operate. This is not to deny that Australia is a dependent economy, nor that its cultural markets have been formed as important markets. Rather, it is to suggest that the effects of this are not universally given in advance but are piecemeal. Rohdie undoubtedly raises the question of the centrality of the state to the seventies revival; but his comments upon that centrality are so constricting as to evacuate an interest in Australian cinema altogether.

The state should be seen, not as an autonomous entity exhaustively producing Australian film in its own dependent (neo-colonial) image, but as a loci of discourses, rationalities and agenda. Whilst the state may have continued to support local production, it can have different rationalities for its action. They are dispersed and incorporated within the film complex in particular, rather than general, ways. The Australian film industry is not explained by the role of the state although it does have particular roles to play at different times.

A feature film industry has been a bi-partisan part of government programs since Gorton's initiatives in 1970. Without ongoing government assistance by way of subvention and special consideration, the film industry would not have been created let alone survived. In any discussion of the economic aspect of the industry due consideration must then be given to those government rationalities for state support. Often unrelated to the film market, they had an important bearing on it. The state inserted film within its priorities and concerns. In order for the different governments, and indeed the same government to continue to support the maintenance of a film industry, it had to find and keep a place in the overall governmental program. There had to be a political rationality for industry support.

Now this rationality was not constant. Twice, in 1974 and 1981, the industry was given massive boosts, by the Whitlam and Fraser governments respectively, which reaffirmed its public status. These boosts were made possible by different conceptions of film's social role.

The Whitlam Labor government conceptualised its support in a platform of providing hitherto neglected 'services' to the community. Its social and cultural legitimation came in Australians having access to the institutions of film making, denied to them in the past by government neglect, overseas capital and Australia's small population. It was the art form of the twentieth century and as such Australia should (if belatedly) participate init.[48]

In its turn the Fraser government justified its support for the existing film industry in terms of the economic and trade spin-offs from international and local release of Australian produced films. It had a direct relation to both the consumption of and demand for Australian goods and services. While other governmental 'quality of life' services were being reduced in 1980/81, this orientation toward film enabled the commercial industry to continue to be well funded. Film was a mascot for Australian industry.[49]

What these examples demonstrate is that the state can and does have different rationalities for its actions - even if those actions are arguably similar in effect. If there is an emblem to the investigation of Australian film here, it is this one provided by Foucault:

I am trying to work in the direction of what one might call eventalisation ... It means making visible a singularity at places where there is a temptation to invoke a historical constant, an immediate anthropological trait, or an obviousness which imposes itself uniformly on all.[50]

By treating the Australian film revival as both a complex and an agenda, it should be possible to avoid seeking any general explanatory principle or mechanism operating on Australian film. The remaining chapters will not, at least in any strict sense, constitute a cultural, economic or political history of film in Australia. Instead, they will give a series of histories, a series of descriptions of relations between discursive and institutional conditions and their transformations. This book attempts to give an account of a collection of interlocking, adjacent, and disjunctive cultural, economic and political narratives. It will do this through the analysis proposed in this chapter.


1 Meaghan Morris, 'The Practice of Reviewing', Framework, nos. 22/23 (Autumn 1983), p. 52.

2 Ibid., p. 58.

3 Anne Freadman first made me aware of the importance of paraphrasing to the intellectual/political enterprise associated with the British journal m/f and to a lesser extent Screen. This description of a way of treating texts - whether philosophical or otherwise - owes much to Freadman's formulation at the time (Brisbane 1980).

4 Compare G. Serle's intellectual elaboration of cultural nationalism in From the Deserts Prophets Come: The Creative Spirit in Australia, 1788-1792 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1973) with Tom Weir's polemical tract 'No Daydreams of our Own', Nation, 22/11/1958, pp. 14-16.

5 Kramer's anti-cultural nationalist position is best summed up in her introduction to the compilation volume The Oxford History of Australian Literature, ed. Leonie Kramer (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 1-23. It is instructive to compare her criticism of cultural nationalism with the commercial TV stations' equally anti-cultural nationalist sentiments in their polemical publication Facts about Australian Content (Sydney: Federation of Australian Commercial TV Stations, 1970), passim. The similarities and differences between these two positions bear closer scrutiny than can be given here.

6 Perhaps the most germinal texts in which this agitational discourse appeared were: Sylvia Lawson, Not for the Likes of Us' and Australian Film'; Michael Thornhill, The Australian Film', Current Affairs Bulletin, v. 41, no. 2 (1967); and the compilation documentaries involving Joan Long - The Pictures that Moves (1968) script Joan Long, directed Alan Anderson; and The Passionate Industry (1972) script and direction Joan Long,. Both films were made for the Commonwealth Film Unit and were widely circulated.

7 John Ellis, 'Art, Culture and Quality - Terms for a Cinema in the Forties and Seventies', Screen, v. 19, no. 3 (Autumn 1978), pp. 9-49.

8 Ibid., p. 10.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid., p. 18.

11 Ibid., p.19.

12 Australian Council for the Arts, Interim Report of the Film Committee to the Australian Council for the Arts, (Sydney: Australian Council for the Arts, 1969).

13 Sheila Johnston, 'The Author as Public Institution: The New Cinema in the Federal Republic of Germany', Screen Education, nos. 32/33 (1979/80), pp. 67-78. Ina Bertrand and Diane Collins, Government and Film in Australia (Sydney: Australian Film Institute/Currency Press, 1981).

14 Johnston, p. 72.

15 Ibid., p. 67.

16 Ibid., p. 78.

17 Bertrand & Collins, p. 12.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid., pp. 11-12.

20 Ibid., p. 47.

21 Colin Gordon, The Subtracting Machine', Ideology and Consciousness, no. 8 (Spring 1981), p. 35.

22 Lawson's germinal texts in this regard were 'Not for the Likes of Us' and 'Australian Film'.

23 A useful reference for this discourse is John Douglas Pringle, Australian Accent (1958; rpt. Adelaide: Rigby, 1978), pp. 113-137.

24 The Vincent Report, as it was commonly called, had a more official designation as the Report from the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for TV (Canberra: AGPS, October 1963).

25 See Max Harris, Document of Our Time', Overland, no. 29 (1964), pp. 25-26.

26 Lawson, Thornhill and Long established a film history cum tradition of Australian film production.

27 This report reiterated much of The Vincent Report's assertions - though with brevity. It also recommended a film and TV school, a feature production fund and an experimental film fund to spot new talent.

28 Foucault, 'Questions of Method', p. 6.

29 See Script, Screen and Stage, January 1971, for a number of viewpoints on this idea of two separate, opposed industries.

30 The Australian Film Council claimed among its members: 'cinema goers, directors, producers, writers, actors, camera men, studio executives, unions and guilds', Australian Film Council Newsletter, August 1969, p. 5.

31 The Tariff Board's brief was to report to the government on what measures should be undertaken to encourage film and TV production. It also had to investigate whether it was necessary to introduce measures to ensure Australian film and TV texts got a reasonable share of the market in exhibition and distribution. See Financial Review, 28/3/1972.

32 Tariff Board Report, p. 13.

33. Compare Ginnane's articles on restrictive trade practices in exhibition and distribution with his later interview as a producer. See Anthony I. Ginnane, 'Restrictive Trade Practices Legislation and the Film Industry', parts 1 and 2, Cinema Papers, v. 2, Issues 5 and 6 (March/April and July/August 1975), pp. 35-38, 82-83 and 116-119; and P. Beilby and S. Murray, 'Ginnane: An Interview', Cinema Papers, v. 6, Issue 19 (Jan/Feb 1979), pp. 174-179, 234-237).

34 With the cinema chains working with rather than against them, Ginnane and Burstall's concern became not so much securing a playdate as securing a nation-wide release. For them an overhaul of the exhibition/distribution status quo was no longer as necessary, as feasible and as desirable as it had been.

35 See V.G. Venturini, Malpractice (Sydney: Non Mollare,1 1980), pp. 129-164.

36 Ibid., pp. 156-164.

37 For an exposition of this view see Editorial', Filmnews, v. 11, no. 2 (Feb. 1981), p. 3.

38 John Hinde, ABC radio's film reviewer, has been a consistent proponent of this position. See John Hinde, Other People's Pictures (Sydney: ABC, 1981), p. 54.

39 This is a formulation taken from Jacques Donzelot, 'The Poverty of Political Culture', Ideology and Consciousness, no. 5 (Spring 1979), p. 74:

The reading of a text is no longer a question of assessing its coherence and detecting its hidden interests or the interests which it betrays,. It is to identify the relation which it produces and a power which it programs, it is to evaluate its strategic functioning in a field of forces.

40 See Peat Marwick and Mitchell Management Services (PMM), Towards a More Effective Commission: The Australian Film Commission (AFC) in the Eighties (Sydney: AFC, October 1979).

41 Lawson, 'Australian Film', p. 21. Lawson writes:

... film is first of all a national industry; it is and must be geared to commerce rather than to culture. As art, it is art-within-industry; and part of the cinema's vitality springs from a perpetual tension between creativity and commerce.

42 Foucault, 'Questions of Method', p. 9.

43 The PMM Report, pp. 10-20.

44 Tariff Report, pp. 20-21.

45 See, for example, Sam Rohdie, 'The Australian State: A National Cinema', Framework, no. 22/23 (Autumn 1983), pp. 28-30.

46 Ibid., p. 30.

47 Ibid., p. 28.

48 See Whitlam's speech at the Australian Film and TV School (AFTS) opening reported in AFTS Newsletter, no. 8 (1975).

49 For an account of the role of the feature film in the Advance Australia Campaign see Sturgess, 'The Emerging New Nationalism'.

50 Foucault, Questions of Method', p. 4.

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