Australian National Cinema

 

Australian Film and Its Value

To accurately analyze the extent of Jedda's influence in Australian cinema, one needs to first situate the film in the time period that it was released. Australian cinema suffered greatly during the 1950s with Hollywood dominance in an international film industry. Chauvel was living in America when he decided that with the story of Jedda he could tell a truly Australian film and compete for Australia's share in the film industry.

A study of Jedda in terms of its value in Australian national cinema is more helpful than analyzing its position in the local cinema. Jedda is one of the first significant Australian films because it set precedence for many trends found in contemporary Australian cinema. It was the first Australian film to be shot in color, the first to cast Aborigines as main characters, and the first go to the Cannes Film Festival. Some important characteristics that Jedda has in common with subsequent Australian films is that its main purpose was to gain international fame and that it dealt with a social issue unique to Australia, that of the treatment of Aborigines. Therefore, Jedda can be seen more as a historical reference point in discussing great achievements of Australian cinema and its value to the international industry.

Nonetheless, Jedda functions as a significant accomplishment for Australian cinema. While attempting to socialize Australian cinema, Tom O'Regan (1996) explains that oftentimes "scriptwriters, directors and producers select story materials from the social materials and forms at their disposal and they use combinations of technology and performance to establish fictional norms and documentary truths" (p.27). Chauvel uses color film to portray the landscapes of the Northern Territory as best he could with the technology available. The casting of Aborigines, most of whom had no previous acting experience, accurately socialized Aboriginal culture in Australian society.

When Chauvel first decided to make an Australian film that could only be told by Australians, he decided upon Jedda because it told the true story of an Aboriginal girl in the Northern Territory of Australia. He called it a quasi-documentary, a non-fictional film backed by action and drama. On the surface it may appear to be an adventure film, attempting to compete with the Westerns of Hollywood. In that way it can be referred to as a Hollywood B movie. However, critics find more depth to Jedda than simply its role as a quasi-documentary. Colin Johnson (1987) explains, "the flatness of his European characters, and the strength of Tudawali's role enables us to read the film as an Aboriginal text" (para 31) The struggle of the Aborigines to conform to white ways while holding onto their indigenous roots is a major theme of this film, among others.

The question as to whether or not Jedda is more of a quasi-documentary, an action melodrama, or social problem movie is a disagreement amongst critics of the cinema. Marcia Langston (1993) criticizes the film for inaccurately portraying the treatment of the Aborigines. She calls it a "colonialist fantasy" in that it inverts "the truth on the black/white frontier, as if none of the brutality, murder and land clearances occurred." Johnson (1987) defends the film in that it successfully addresses the social problem because it portrays a "dignified Aboriginal male lead that has been allowed to exist in films made by white directors in Australia…" (O'Regan 1996, p.192).

Due to the facts that the details of the story of Jedda seem to only exist in Chauvel's film, and the means by which he retrieved her story are very obscure, one can conclude that the accuracy of the story is not as important as the purpose of the movie in addressing the social problem of Aboriginal discrimination. Though the film is primitive in dealing with all of the issues, it does succeed in setting an example for subsequent films.

 

A Medium Sized English Language Cinema

Jedda's place in Australian national cinema as a medium sized English language cinema is small since that cinema was still very young at the time, but its influence was great. In 1952, three years before Jedda was released, Hollywood movies held 75% of the Australian market. At this time, the Australian cinema was just starting to make its way on the international scope, but the world wide success of Jedda did give it a little push. Also, the establishment of international festivals in Australia in the 1950s helped increase the size of the Australian cinema, especially with the appearance of Jedda at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 (O'Regan 1996). Despite the small size of Australian cinema at the time of Jedda's release, the fact that it was an English language film helped it succeed in its medium sized English language cinema competitors, America and the United Kingdom. The inclusion of the Arunte language in Jedda was small enough so that the story could still be well understood while it made the film uniquely Australian. Though it wouldn't be until two decades later that Australia would hold a significant place as a medium sized English language national cinema in an international market, Jedda was still a major accomplishment in the small sized national cinema that it existed in during the 1950s.


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