Reading Room > film > Carol Laseur > Hons dissertation

The Field of Genre and Australian Filmic Texts:
Transforming Cultural Narratives

Carol Laseur

Chapter 4
The Self-Reflexive Genre Film

Goodbye Paradise represents a quite different process of the play of genres than that evidenced in the so-called melodramatic film. In this film, one finds a self-reflexive display of generic possibilities (and inter-genericity) as cultural performance. Goodbye Paradise is constructed across - and works over - specific generic boundary divisions. It flaunts an intertextual style, consciously displaying its processes of production, constantly 'quoting' from other cultural texts. On close examination, Goodbye Paradise has the potential for demystifying the containment function of genre that I have discussed earlier.

Goodbye Paradise is a strikingly self-reflexive text in terms of its performance of a whole range of generic elements and filmic codes. This film is constructed within a fascinating mix of narrational strategies. David Bordwell's study of narrative formations in filmic texts [1] provides an illuminating theoretical entry into a study of these strategies that can be applied to an analysis of Goodbye Paradise. His method posits a distinctive approach to genre that focusses on the construction of "modes of narration". These modes include classical narration (identified with Hollywood films), art cinema narration (attached to the "international art cinema" [2]), historical-materialist narration and parametric narration. The first two of these modes are particularly appropriate in a response to Goodbye Paradise. In general, Bordwell points out that "no single film, or even a dozen films, can exhaustively characterize a narrational mode ...". [3] For my purposes this can be rewritten as: no single, narrational mode can exhaustively characterise any single, or even a dozen films. The significance of this redefinition is to suggest that any reading of Goodbye Paradise as the straight-forward presentation of a narrational 'world' would negate its "possibility to actualize" (Bordwell's term) a complex set of multi-generic codes, leading to a minimalist response to the film.

In terms of the story/plot interplay, Goodbye Paradise functions via both classical and art narration strategies. A brief definitional sketch of the two modes is necessary. The most dominant aspect of classical narration lies in a film's appeal to the spectator's comprehension of linear logic. Beginnings, middles and endings are clearly recognisable. Contrary to art-narration, ambiguities are smoothed over to highlight an apparent seamlessness. Plot information is presented in order to retard and delay the story-line as a gradual unfolding of events takes place. Bordwell describes this succinctly with :

... the plot consists of an undisturbed stage, the disturbance, the struggle, and the elimination of the disturbance. [4]

Classical narration sets up a certain type of communicativeness, in that its plot structures are overdetermined, functioning within a paradigm of probable alternatives, thus rendering the story-line highly redundant. Causality has a major function here, as it is through the sequencing of emplotted material that one constructs a consistent story-line. The classical story-line builds towards a conclusive ending by positing (tying-up plot strands, etc.) a Realist ideological 'truth-value'. This is usually achieved through the narrative trajectory in the 'formation' of the heterosexual couple. By contrast, it is suggested that art-narration posits a new reality-effect or vraisemblance. This new reality effect incorporates both an 'objective' reality placed on the world of narrative events and gives the character a 'subjective'/psychological vantage-point in relation to the events narrated. [5]

The canonical story does not have an essential role to play in the structuring of art-cinema narration. The use of time and space does not usually adhere to any strict causal or spatio-temporal relationship in the sequencing of events. Art-narration, on the other hand, draws on the overtly psychological aspects of characterization. And, as its name suggests, art-cinema relies on symbolic effects (cuts, close-ups, unresolved gaps in the plot-structure etc.) to motivate its compositional format.

Goodbye Paradise, as I have suggested, draws on both the classical and art-narration modes for its performative effects. Central to these effects is a series of 'slippages' between the modes. Again, a dialectical process is at work in this film. This is evident from the very beginning. Bordwell stresses the importance of establishing shots, as it is through the opening sequences of a film that a "primacy effect" [6] is mobilized. As spectators, we draw from various schemata of knowledge that either 'match' or elude schemata used in the narrative. The primacy effect conditions a response from the spectator as s/he draws-up and tests out certain hypotheses in relation to material inferred by the text. In the opening scene of Goodbye Paradise we see a shot of the sun rising over the beach in Surfers Paradise, followed by a cut to Mike Stacey (Ray Barrett) walking along the beach. We immediately identify the laconic voice-over with this character as it gives us a brief character description. The voice-over begins:

"I miss my wife, I miss my dog, I miss my hip flask of Johnny Walker. I've been off the grog for six weeks ... ." [7]

This passage does two things: (i) it functions as a commentary on remembered events, and (ii) it cues an audience to prepare for different perspectives on the modalities of story-telling (including those of the reliable and/or unreliable narrator) within an overall narrational process. By this I mean a recognition by the spectator of a spatial mediation between image and voice, commentary and action; and a temporal one between past and present, present and future.

The use of sound in relation to images in the opening sequences of this film also functions in a number of ways: firstly, it sets up a particular (or dominant) mode of narration - that of the main protagonist's point of view. Secondly, it inscribes in the text a particular audio-visual rhythm, and lastly, the use of a voice-over acts as another device through which story information is presented. The use of voice-over becomes an internal diegetic source of sound from which the character's subjective thoughts, recollections and ideas are narrated. Bordwell and Thompson describe various aspects and usages of sound in relation to overall spatio-temporal effects. Their comments on the use of voice-over are as follows:

One major function of the commentary is to deflect the film's whole time scheme. Instead of simply showing a series of events in the present, the commentary (internal displaced diegetic) places the events in the past ... the commentary is a remembering of events. [8]

It is precisely this type of displacement (visual/verbal material) that occurs in the opening scenes.

What do these opening scenes reveal about techniques drawn from either classical or art-narration strategies? How does the voice-over function as an agent for narrative construction? As a monologue it represents thoughts not speech, and in a sense, is a highly subjective window on the protagonist's world. Though these thoughts could also be read as objective statements functioning to distance the character from presented events. As in art narration, the interplay of subjectivity and objectivity is heightened by the voice-over, whilst at the same time, in a Classic Realist sense it constructs a type of seamless continuity.

In terms of an analysis via art-narration, Goodbye Paradise (as text) can be seen as a developing extension of this establishing shot - we are told all we need to know about Stacey - and yet he remains an enigma (why is he an ex-deputy commissioner, ex-army, 'ex-drinker' and why is he sacked by publishers?). Oddly, we have an excess of past information on the one hand, and virtually nothing in terms of a present narration on the other. The narrative begins by creating gaps (thematised by the re-developing relationship between Kate (Robyn Nevin) and Stacey) that remain more or less permanent as the film progresses in order to subvert any classical closure that may have been expected earlier. It is precisely through these gaps that a slippage or seepage of art-narration into the classical (and vice-versa occurs).

From the outset, Stacey is presented as a particular 'type' of character - a laconically confident and confused anti-hero. Both the tone and pace of the voice-over suggest a mix of common-sense-knowledge on the one hand, and uneasy disillusionment on the other. Stacey here is clearly working as an intertextual reference to the 'hard-boiled' detective, like a Phillip Marlowe figure at the centre of much of Raymond Chandler's fiction. [9] This key intertextual reference constructs/defines the film generically over and above any technical matters, such as camera angles, framing, graphic matches, etc. As the first few shots in the boarding house unfold we are given more information by this voice-over; Stacey recalls old friends and associates names and flippantly mentions his current suicidal state as if going through a daily check-list. It is clearly through Stacey's 'outlook' and how he is positioned vis à vis others in the text that notions of genre are put in place and parodied.

Hence Goodbye Paradise functions at a meta-discursive level, i.e. the discourse of the detective genre acts as a self-reflexive agent wherein the protagonist is motivated by a double structure: the covert drive for self-knowledge alongside the overtly thematic objective - to find Cathy McCredie. It is through an episodic sequencing of events ( the visit to the art gallery, the 'temple', the dolphin park, the photographers, the escort agency, etc.) that Stacey's search for Cathy parodies the search for self-identity in a corrupt urban-capitalist setting. For example, on having been officially removed from the 'job' - Stacey's voice-over tells us: "it didn't matter about the money I had to find her now for my own curiosity."

It becomes clear that the search for Cathy functions as a sub-plot, though her disappearance functions as further 'expository' material about the coup and enables certain political dimensions within the film to be developed. Neither does Stacey seem to have any apparent deadlines (in delaying or terminating the coup) as no sooner than he has knowledge of it - he finds himself in the middle of it! And, ironically, it is because he can't meet deadlines that he is sacked by his publisher.

This particular focus on Stacey, and the extent to which he either eludes us as a goal-oriented protagonist (a feature of classical narrative) or confirms the existential "boundary situation", [10] shows us how both classical and art-narrational strategies are used by Goodbye Paradise. The character-function played by Barrett successfully juxtaposes these modes, self-consciously aware of the intellectual schemata being applied. A self-mocking style is established that gives him (whatever image is notionally possible: goal-oriented 'hero' or misfit blunderer) the status of a pseudo anti-hero. This typically laconic positioning of Stacey is maintained throughout the film and most vividly presented when he is shown hijacking the tourist bus for his journey to the mountains ("new eden"). This climactic scene is presented in terms of 'a man with a mission'. This mission, though, is soon curtailed when on his approach he is run down by a tank then drugged! This protagonist, who undoubtedly sees things from below (as in the picaresque novel), who has 'lost' his social status, 'lost' his wife, and his one-time companion/lover blown up, and is coming close to 'losing his marbles' is now going to be killed by the alcohol he is forced to consume: an ironic fait accompli.

Goodbye Paradise utilises the conventions of the detective novel [11] then - particularly the overwhelming desire for secure knowledge - in order to depart from the extrinsic norms of the genre. The spectator relies on Stacey as a source of knowledge (as we can only follow the story construction via Stacey as the narrative's mediating agent). It is because the film-text is aware of this generic norm that the voice over (as source of information) has a particular send-up quality. Against this sardonic, consciously metaphorical and colourfully colloquial voice, no element of the film remains unchallenged. The voice-over, in fact, works as the dominant structuring device in terms of mode (vehicle) of narration. It pre-empts certain character relationships (e.g. on Mrs McCredie; " ... she looked as mean as a beach full of blue-bottles"), keeps us informed - or misinformed - on Stacey's actions/reactions (e.g. on dropping Cathy at home: "... discarded of my godfatherly duty ...") and gives the text a particular audio-visual rhythm. It is the rhythm of generic parody.

One also notices the use of film noir techniques, as stylistic influence, at work in Goodbye Paradise. This genre has been noted for its 'darker' visual style and for its particular construction of character-types. A play on light and dark, seen and not seen, the use of shadows and sillouetted figures mark it as generically distinctive. Bordwell and Thompson claim that American film noirs of the '40s used underexposed images to increase pervasive darkness. [12]

The effective use of lighting in Goodbye Paradise plays intertextually on the convention of this sub-genre to depict seedy bars and shady characters. Lighting does more than just dramatise certain actions, it creates moods and 'spaces', giving a bar (surrounded by people) an empty, unwelcome or brooding feeling. For example, Stacey's room in the boarding house is presented as a dingy but 'industrious' sort of dwelling. The enclosed 'space' becomes strangely claustrophobic in contrast to an earlier shot of the beach (wide open spaces) and the natural brightness of a summer's day. Cuts back to Stacey's room provide a sort of visual rhetoric throughout the film - a point from which to depart and return - always signifying a dishevelled 'state of affairs'. Both his landlady and Les McCredie (at different times) are shown standing in the doorway and commenting on the state of it, clearly an implied positioning on the character who lives in it. The overtones of film noir continue through a style that is marked - in this film - by notions of deviation and excess. At one point, Stacey is chased and bashed in a dark alley under a neon sign that reads "Fantasia Macabre" - to later drag himself blood-stained and battered along a wall postered "Give Blood for the Red Cross". He then staggers past the Salvation Army band. All in all, an excessively ironic use of visual and verbal puns.

Music also has a number of important intertextual functions in this film, particularly towards the end when the 1812 overture is played loudly as the "New Eden" site is attacked by the counter-coup. It is during this scene that one feels the visuals 'accompany' the music (instead of vice-versa) - the overture blasts triumphantly on, signifying a symbolic over-indulgence in national pride and patriotic fervour. The army recruiting song (played loudly) and an Australian flag (carried heroically) deploy both music and symbols of patriotism to set-piece, staged and stagy ends.

In Goodbye Paradise one also sees a sardonic play on/of gendered relationship positions. Far from moving towards the formation of a 'couple', this film displays a whole series of broken (often murdered) relationships. Stacey blunders between the roles of protective godfather, father, friend, rival, mentor and could-be-lover - none of them represented in any way as permanent, or even possible positions - while (in the generic fashion of film noir) the female protagonists are constituted as being 'out of place' within the narrative trajectory. The nuclear-family structure has no place in a film that remorselessly parodies a whole range of cultural 'norms'.

It is time to return to the notion of seepage into the classical mode in this highly entertaining film. Art-narration modes - visual, verbal, symbolic - in fact gain a detailed power within this overall discourse. Throughout the film one is constantly presented with the 'art' effect. Take for example, the giant chessboard scene on the beach where Stacey learns of Tod and Quinney's plan to make Queensland a 'free state'. The board becomes an excessive signifier of the narrative game (or the quest for knowledge) whereas the military take-over represents the narrative 'threat' (or the resolution to all prior narrative manoeuvres). Stacey's reaction (to his two 'old mates' request to join them) is symbolically apt: "I'll send you a post-card from the People's Republic of Northern Victoria".

The art-narration effect works in a number of different and inter-connected ways. The repetition of black-out sequences dislocates any continuous spatio-temporal dimension (the film goes blank) and works to include the thematic (Stacey 'out of things'). Stacey's narrated comments on himself and the story of Agamemnon [13] (old man amongst young lovers) bring mythic dimensions into play while the voice-over croons "paradise is youth, and youth is innocence ...". Right up to the last shot, symbolic overtones are present: a rich sense of place, the garish colours of sundown over Gold Coast skyscrapers, Stacey as an 'existential' hero alone except for his omnipresent banana (with a freckle that is an electronic bug). Stacey speaks into the banana: "this is Mike Stacey signing off." Dropping the banana he walks away - hyperbole, satire and the ridiculous. Connected with effects such as these (and reinforcing them) is the evident stylisation of action where armoured cars packed with Malaysians appear suddenly outside laundromats and pink rent-a-bombs are blown up along with tourist buses, communes and rhubarb hot-houses. All of these elements invade (and subvert) the classical narrational modes that structure sequential development in the film.

Ray Barrett's acting style in Goodbye Paradise, or more precisely his look, is another important aspect of the film's narrative strategies. Bordwell's remark about how art cinema develops:

a range of mise-en-scène cues for expressing character mood: static postures, covert glances, smiles that fade, aimless walks, emotion-filled landscapes, and associated objects ... [14]

is particularly appropriate here. The 'seen better days' clothes (stylishly dishevelled), the casual and laconic look when confronted with threat or authority, the honest face when confronted with love or affection, the world-weary look from under drooping eyebrows with hands in pockets and a body always ready to duck the next bullet: these are all art-cinema cues that cannot be smoothly incorporated into classical modes of narration.

The same can certainly be said of the consistent verbal reference to other stories (other texts) in this film. There is reference to Shakespeare (at the commune and at the parting of the 'soldiers-in-arms' on the beach), to Greek myth and to autobiographical memoirs. These represent the overt literary intertext. At the level of the social and the cultural intertext, we have Queensland, scandals, the grotesqueness of Americanisation and so on. At the level of the political: states' rights, secession (Stacey's remark about a "postcard from the People's Republic of Northern Victoria"), along with the role of multi-national companies in the coup. On the ethical level, it is how to be moral (how to survive) in the eighties, in an area where people come to die. Yet, in terms of narrational modes, none of these is as significant as the clear structural reference to strategies from the American crime novel/film genre mentioned earlier. Stacey's voice-over narration in Goodbye Paradise amounts (in terms of both form and ideology) to an Australian transcription of the American style, [15] albeit knowingly translated into the eighties. It is here, in this area of reference (to an intertext at the level of art production itself) that Goodbye Paradise displays its art-narration qualities.

It would be wrong, though, to see Goodbye Paradise as some sort of pale imitator of American cultural forms. As a film it appears to be both part of and laconically satirical towards the process whereby Australian films were "yoked to the prevailing regimes of art cinema," as Stuart Cunningham describes it in "Hollywood Genres, Australian Movies". [16] More than that, Goodbye Paradise performs a parodic knowledge of this process, continuing a tradition whereby "parody (like the in-joke) has always been a favourite ploy of Australian colonial culture". [17] In this respect, the film is one of those 'double' Australian texts where:

survival and specificity can both be ensured by the revision of American codes by Australian texts, in a play which can be beheld quite differently by various audiences, and individual eyes therein. [18]

Striking elements of generic transformation are at work in Goodbye Paradise and, consequently, a transformation of the formal boundaries of narrational codes. In this film, one can clearly see the often ignored (or down-played) connections between genre and cultural knowledge.

If Goodbye Paradise manifestly shows the connections between genre and cultural knowledge, Palm Beach goes further than such a showing of connections. To the extent that patterns of filmic performance can illuminate contemporary trends in Australian Cinema (noticeably evidenced in a recent film such as Young Einstein), Palm Beach provides an exemplary concluding analysis for this study.

Notes

1. David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (London: Methuen, 1985).

2. Ibid., p.205.

3. Ibid., p.166.

4. Ibid., p.157. Here Bordwell is summarising ideas from Heath. See Stephen Heath, "Film and System: Terms of Analysis", Screen, vol.16, no.1 (Spring 1975) pp.48-50.

5. See Bordwell, ibid., p.206.

6. Ibid., p.38.

7. Quoted by Ray Barrett in M. Stiles, "Ray Barrett", Cinema Papers, no. 40, October 1982, p.439.

8. D. Bordwell and K. Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction (Mass.: Adison-Wesley, 1980) p.208.

9. See, for example, Chandler's The Little Sister (London: Pan Books, 1971; first publ. 1947).

10. Bordwell, op.cit., p.208.

11. For a comprehensive study of the conventions of detective fiction, see Stephen Knight, Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 1980).

12. Film Art, p.101.

13. See the direct linking of the Stacey character with Agamemnon in "Production Survey: Goodbye Paradise", Cinema Papers, no.40 (October 1982).

14. Narration in the Fiction Film, p.208.

15. For a directly comparable passage, see (for example): "Tired men in dusty coupes and sedans winced and tightened their grip on the wheel and ploughed on north and west towards home and dinner, an evening with the sports page, the blatting of the radio, the whining of their spoiled children and the gabble of their silly wives. I drove on past the gaudy neons and the false fronts behind them, the sleazy hamburger joints that looked like palaces under the colours ...," Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister (Pan Books, 1979), first publ. 1949, p.61.

16. Stuart Cunningham, "Hollywood Genres, Australian Movies" in An Australian Film Reader, op.cit., p.235.

17. Meaghan Morris, "Touch and Claw: Tales of Survival and Crocodile Dundee", Art and Text, no.25 (1987) p.43.

18. Ibid.


New: 23 February, 1996 | Now 30 March, 2015