Erica Stevens, 10-05-01, Australian Cinema

Turtle Beach

Part l

Cast and Credits:

Director: Stephen Wallace

Producer: Matt Carroll

Executive Producer: Greg Coote, Graham Burke

Scriptwriter: Ann Turner

Director of Photography: Russell Boyd

Production Designer: Brian Thomas

Costume Designer: Roger Kirk

Sound: Ben Osmo

Editor: Lee Smith, Louis Inner

Composer: Chris Neal.

Cast: Greta Scacchi (Judith Wilkes), Joan Chen (Lady Minou Hobday), Jack Thompson (Ralph Hamilton), Art Malik (Kanan), Norman Kaye (Sir Adrian Hobday), Victoria Longley (Sancha Hamilton), Martin Jacobs (Richard), William Mclnnes (Minder), George Whaley (Bill), Andrew Ferguson (David)

Roadshow, Coote & Carroll

Australian distributor: Village-Greater Union. 35mm. 90 mins. Australia. 1992. (Younis, 54).

The feature film, Turtle Beach was released in 1992. The film was a result to Blanche d’Alpuget’s book Turtle Beach, published in 1981. Correspondent Williams, Louise argues that, "You know that something special is in the offing when the author of the original novel praises the adapted screenplay: it’s as rare as a shy politician," (Williams; 78). D’Alpuget praises the script because she is convinced that it goes more in-depth than the book did. She claims that the film was produced to "broaden the circle of compassion" (Williams; 78). The prestigious film emphasized the physical aspects as well as many political issues. Turtle Beach was an example of how film illustrates Australian multiculturalism and incorporates ethnic difference (O’Regan; 326).

Producer Matt Carroll, agrees that the script is powerful, due to the dynamic cast, well-developed characters and its dialogue. As any producer, Carroll’s goal was for Turtle Beach to hit the top. He wanted the film to be akin to David Putnam’s The Killing Fields. After the publication of the book Turtle Beach, Tim Reed saw its potential for the book to turn into a motion picture before Carroll could respond. However, David Puttnam asked for Carroll’s involvement in rewriting the script. Carroll wrote many drafts but realized the script would be more potent coming from the perspective of a female writer.

Carroll encouraged Ann Turner to write the script for Turtle Beach as a result to her successful debut feature, Celia. "Her first draft was better than anything before it," said Carroll (Williams; 78). Although, Carroll was a little frustrated toward the publics response to her script he accepted the fact that they didn’t want him to alter the script.

Both Carroll and Turner established that in order for the film to be successful they needed to have a few known characters. With that in mind, they chose Greta Scacchi to play the character of Judith Wilkes, an Australian journalist reporting about the Vietnamese boat people. Although Scacchi is an English-Italian, she is considered an Australian for government money-raising purposes because she lived in Perth for three years as a teenager (d’Alpuget; 1992; 112). Scacchi was considered Turtle Beach’s well-known actor, which is crucial in terms of insurance policy.

The following characters played important roles in the film also. However, I was unable to find a lot of information on these characters. Joan Chen was chosen to play the role of Kinou. Chen was described as a "perfect choice" (Williams, 78). Jack Thompson stars as Ralph Hamilton, the immigration officer who decides who gets and Australian visa and who doesn’t. Director Stephen Wallace concluded that the characters chosen for the film, as well as the structure of the script will provide for a great film and will contribute to "something politically useful" (Williams, 78). Shockingly, this was the only information I was able to find about these characters. I was pretty surprised about these results and believe that I was not looking in the right places for their bibliographical details.

Carroll and Turner’s motive in making the film was to illustrate the amount of racism that is still occurring and the increase in refugees. Thompson fears the increase in refugees and stated that, "The number of refugees in the world is growing by 1.5 million a year. It is not a nationalistic problem, but a human one" (Williams; 78). However, "The Australian news media got itself in a lather of indignation over the "inaccurate" massacre scene" (d’Alpuget; 1992; 113). If this is the case, than Turtle Beach was successful in debunking the films meaning. Many people claim that Turtle Beach has caused uproar among the Malaysian Government because the film gives them a bad name. The script emphasizes Malays killing refugees; therefore, there was a lot of controversy between Malaysia and Australia. Perhaps this is a result toward having such a difficult time finding information on Turtle Beach.

I didn’t have any problem finding information about the book. However, the film was another story. I spent days in the library searching most of the Murdoch Databases and found very little. At first, I thought that the lack of information I had was a result to me being unfamiliar with the Murdoch Library. As an international, I have not become completely comfortable with the research facilities provided within the library. However, I acquired for help at the information desk and they too could not find any additional information. I am convinced that this is a result to the controversy that the film has caused. I believe that the Australian government would prefer to keep this topic quiet for fear that it might interact with any trading negotiations Australia has or could have with Asia. With this in mind, I was unable to find any of the release dates, box office figures and critical analysis of the cinematographer, producer, scriptwriter and lead actors. However, what I did manage to find about the crew has been mentioned above.

Part II:

Blanche d’Alpuget’s book Turtle Beach is a potent novel about survival and Australian relations with Asia. Her book was a result to the controversial film Turtle Beach. d’Alpuget congratulates the crew for sticking to the basic repertoires of the book, while also exploring other issues more in-depth. Carroll and Turner did however, have some difficulty toward transforming the novel into a film. According to d’Alpuget, the first issue that was altered from the book opposed to the film was narrative tension. The translation in books verses film is quit different too. Furthermore, the film, more so than the book, raises the question on international compassion for refugees as a moral issue. Therefore, the issue of race was of great concern at the time too (d’Apuget; 1992; 111).

According to Eccles cinephile, d’Alpuget preceded to warn PM Bob Hawke about Turtle Beach for fear that it would cause a out roar. When explaining the film d’Alpuget stated, "this furor is entirely made up by the press. There may well be outrage in Malaysia- however it’s been forced on Mahathir by the press in Australian. Of course their job is to be mischievous. However I think it’ll have a bad outcome for Australia" (Eccles; 39). As a result to d’Alpuget’s comments, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DAFT) has dissociated itself with "21 errors of fact" and has questioned the producer about altering certain elements within the film (Eccles; 39). Eccles’s article illustrated d’Alpuget’s three main arguments regarding the film. First of all, she argues that a major emphasis of practical diplomacy was portrayed in the film. She feared that with no warning the Malaysia’s would have been shocked. She claims that a film effects an audience far more than a book. Furthermore, she highlights that the film was funded with government money through the Film Finance Corporation (Eccles; 39). "They would have taken it out on the High Commission, expelled staff and caused businesses to lose out in trade" (Eccles; 39). Eccles is certain that if this film was to go unspoken, many difficulties between Australia and Malaysia would have occurred, possibly never interacting with Malaysia again. In fact, Carroll claims that he’d be arrested if he ever went to Malaysia (Eccles; 39).

On the Australian cinema matrix, Turtle Beach would be depicted as an Australian social text cinema. Turtle Beach concentrates on various repertoires throughout the film, such as intercultural relationships and Orientalism. The film is the "hybrid dimension of the cinema as simultaneously international, local, social and discursive"(O’Regan; 162) Furthermore, it highlights the problem with refugees in Malaysia in the 1970s (Younis; 53). Judith Wilkes, a female Journalist, finds herself in Malaysia to report on the arrival of the boat people. When she arrives, Wilkes’s strength is put to test. Wilkes meets up with Vietnamese-born Minou Hobday, the second wife of the Australian ambassador. The reporter looks to Minou as an unreliable mentor and soon becomes encompassed in Minou’s Asian problems and presumptions. Minou’s bravery and struggle for survival becomes a motif throughout the film. Although Carroll raises many important issues in the film, he focuses on the struggles Asian women and the Asian society face in everyday life. Throughout the film, an Orientalism perspective is illustrated. Perhaps, the film demonstrated an interest toward Asia and Asians because of the countries exotic background. As O’Regan argues, social class has been a reoccurring feature in Australian Cinema. Turtle Beach used social class to demonstrate inequality. The film is a classic example of O’Regan’s assumption that alternative problematiztation of social life and national life ways can be a negative contribution within a film (O’Regan; 269). When dealing with social class cleavages, filmmakers can always expect someone to be unhappy.

Carroll uses Minou as an example of bravery throughout the film. Minou’s determination to save the boat people was admired by the reporter. The consequences Minou could face were of no concern to her. Instead, she wanted to save her people, but most of all wanted to see her children. In effort to save the boat people, Minou always ended up seeing her people being slaughtered by Malaysians. Under these horrifying conditions, d’Alpuget is convinced that Asians are the "bravest" people she has ever met" (d’Alpuget; 1981; 81). The time period presented in the film was vital because it was when racial hatred was at a high. "In fact the film opens with a racial clash between Indian and Chinese people, and it is clear even at this stage that barbaric acts are not prevented or even shunned"(Younis; 53). The Vietnamese refugees are treated like animals throughout the film. With no doubt, the films graphic massacres of Chinese by Malays would in fact cause controversy. Some of the actions in the film, such as the "wielding long and vicious parang knives" are debatable because it was never recorded in history (Eccles; 39). These brutal acts however, provided the film with far more power than it would have without the scenes. Producer Matt Carroll, is convinced that the stoning of the refugees did occur. Eccles article quoted him saying that "as many as 11,000 may have been towed back out to see to an uncertain fate; and 200 refugees were drowned when their boat stuck on rocks as local villagers stood and watched" (Eccles; 39).

d’alpuget argues that Turtle Beach demonstrates that while foreigners still have a sense of fear toward Asians, Australians are aware of the turmoil, chaos and instability throughout Asia. Asia is not just a place of turmoil and chaos. However, these stereotypes are how Turtle Beach, as well as Europeans, has depicted Asia. We see Asian representation through the media. If a person has never been to Asia, than Turtle Beach would probably influence a person toward not going to the exotic place. As Blanche d’Alpuget stress, "the politics and the violence in the movie Turtle Beach must be incomprehensible to people who are unfamiliar with these facts"(d’Alpuget, 1992, 107). Films have been successful in creating set images about the East as well as the West. In terms of Turtle Beach, the film illustrates South East Asia as a "surrogate middle East of Islam, despotism, violence, oil and sex, a storehouse where young boys as well as women circulate as endlessly accessible objects of desire and of destruction" (O’Regan; 282).

Turtle Beach, illustrates how Asia is a country that is always in upheaval and is instable. The movie demonstrated that the greatest need is the need of survival (d’Alpuget; 1988, 74). Turtle Beach stresses the disorder throughout Asia. The film also points out the hierarchy of races, male verses female, illustrating how Asian women are often classified as victims. Furthermore, it illustrates the intense brutality Asians (especially Asian women) have had to grow up with.

Throughout Turtle Beach, Carroll continued to stress the poverty within Asia compared to Australia. Many Australians show sympathy toward the treatment of Asians. However, if people have stereotypes of Asia as the one presented in the film, it is no wonder that people show sympathy toward Asians. Perhaps Australian writers and producers use Asia as their source because it reinforces how much more Australians have. Furthermore, it demonstrates that Australia has grown to be a prosperous country. For instance d’Alpuget wrote, "We foreigners congratulated ourselves constantly that we did not run our countries in such a brutal and chaotic manner" (d’Alpuget; 1988; 71). Gerster argues that writers travel to exotic places for the "opportunity to reassess the homeland left behind" (Gerster ;225).

By the end of the film, the representation of Asian women shifts slightly, Minou is portrayed as a heroic figure. Despite the inhumane treatment and struggle Minou has faced throughout the film, she never gave up. With an Orientalism perspective, Carroll emphasizes how the Asian life style is a struggle for survival and mourned the indifference of the human life. Although the film touched upon some great repertoires, Correspondent Younis Raymond’s cinephile argues that the dialogue lacks power and that the most forceful scenes are those with the images and music. Another problem, especially in the earlier section, is the awkwardness in handling the many transitions. However, Younis then argues that the film "is most effective when it concentrates on the plight of the refugees-and effective it is. It is also effective when it focuses on the plight of the two women who (re)discover what it means to be a mother" (Younis; 54).

It is extremely hard to predict how successful a film is going to be until it actually hits the box office. Studies have shown that for every screenplay written, only one in ten is shot. "Of these only one in ten is released. Of these only one in ten make it to the big screen, and of these, one in ten makes a profit" (d’Alpuget; 1992; 109). Feature films are difficult to make because they require vast amounts of capital. Turtle Beach ended up with a budget of $11 million (d’Alpuget; 1992; 109). Very few films break even or make profit. However, I couldn’t find the results to Turtle Beach, but I can’t imagine that it was the success the crew had hoped it would be.

Turtle Beach was an extremely disturbing film. Carroll’s reoccurring motifs of problematizing Asia while focusing on its ethnicity and multicultralism was a great risk. It is understandable that the Malaysia government would respond to the film with such outrage, especially after trying to heal from the 1969 massacres. Producing the film was a great contributor toward opening up wounds that Malaysia has wished to leave behind. When anyone is reinforced of there own mishaps, it is obvious that some tension will occur. As illustrated throughout the paper, many journals have captured the demythologizing repertoires of discursivization within the film (O’Regan; 344). Therefore, making it harder for Malaysians to deal with the stereotypes of their country.

Over all, I had an extremely difficult time with this assignment. However, it has made me aware that many correspondents capture similar motifs within there articles. For example after reading about five articles, I found that the rest of the archives were almost identical. There was a significant amount of information regarding the social context of the film. O’Regan claims that this is because critics and audiences search for social problematization as a central point in their reviews. I am still debating on whether or not I was searching in the right locations for information on Turtle Beach. Since I was unable to find the box office figures, I can only assume that Turtle Beach wasn’t a tremendous success. Therefore, not a lot of information was documented. I was unable to find a significant amount of bibliographical information on the cast and crew. Again, I have a feeling I wasn’t looking in the right material. However, I am also wondering if this is because the cast and crew were not well known among the public audience. As mentioned above, very few films make it to the big screen. Therefore, I believe this is the same case with the documentation of actors and crew. If they are unknown, than they have a smaller chance in being documented. Although I feel uncomfortable with the Murdoch library system, this assignment has contributed to providing me with a better understanding of how to use the Murdoch database as well as the Internet.

Works Cited

d’Alpuget, Blanche. "From Novel to Film: The Transformation of Turtle Beach." The Sydney Papers. Vol. 4. No. 2. Aug 1992. pp. 106-113.

d’Alpuget, Blanche. Island Magazine. no. 30-40 1987-90. 1988. pp. 71-76

d’Alpuget, Blanche. Turtle Beach. Penguin Books. 1981

Eccles, Jeremy. "Turning Turtle." Australian Left Review. No. 138. Apr. 1992.

Gerster, Robin. ‘A bit of the other. Touring Vietnam’. In Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake (eds). Gender and War. Australians at war in the twentieth century. OUP. Melbourne. 1995. pp. 223-235.

O’Regan, Tom. Australian National Cinema. Routledge. 1996

Williams, Louise. "An Adult Turtle Movie." Sydney Morning Herald. Good Weekend. 11 Aug 1990. pp. 78

Younis, Raymond. "Film Reviews." Cinema Papers. No. 88. May/June. 1992. pp. 53-54.