It is in contact with the other of the other [...] that a culture sees other cultures and comes to perceive itself as distinct not only from what has always been near, from neighbouring groups, but also from what is distant. This contact with the flow from the other of the other not only may make a culture perceive itself in relation to an other, but may add hitherto unknown dimensions to its sense of boundedness - bounded not only from what is near but from other, distant others as well. (Wark, 1994:161)
The formulation of an Australian cinematic post-diaspora does not particularly claim to be some kind of a revolutionary "eye-opening" concept nor an innovative "solution" in relation to the investigation of hybridity within Australian filmmaking. It should be more appropriate to consider it as an alternative theoretical strategy prospecting, through the use of a different model, to rekindle, supplement and possibly reinforce available perspectives on the theme of hybridity. In a similar way to my own particular approach, Meaghan Morris (1988), Ross Gibson (1992), McKenzie Wark (1994) and Tom O'Regan (1996) are more or less inclined to discuss hybridity within Australian cinema and culture at large in terms of negotiation. In other words, there is an accepted prerequisite of some sort of ambivalence whereby constant movement occurs between the various available coordinates of the local and those of their external referential points. Metaphorically speaking, the principles of a cinematic post-diaspora could be understood as another set of tools to be added to the already well-endowed theoretical toolbox commonly used to assess and discuss the hybridity of filmmaking practices within Australian cinema. This chapter is therefore concerned primarily with the location and evaluation of these other sets of theoretical tools, with a particular emphasis on the concept of antipodality as the dominant component for discursive articulation.
According to Tom O'Regan (1996:110),
[t]he antipodal condition is central to the Australian negotiation of its possibilities. Australian filmmakers need to provide inventive solutions to being on the margins of the more dominant film cultures of the USA, UK and continental Europe. [emphasis added]
'Inventive solutions' could indeed be equated to processes of hybridisation within Australian cinema, to the Australianisation of filmmaking standards, norms or values usually deemed to "belong" to dominant film cultures. It would seem that such types of solutions are in fact inevitable. They are necessarily automatic or natural outcomes of antipodality - a sine qua non in relation to Australian cinema and Australian (popular) culture at large. Furthermore, the antipodal condition is conjoined by O'Regan (1996) to the principle of unequal cultural exchanges, inherent to the relationship between Australian cinema and the dominant cinematic configurations.
The application of antipodality and the principle of unequal exchanges in this instance are primarily derived and formulated from the writings of McKenzie Wark (1994). His Virtual Geography (1994) does not deal with Australian cinema, and he never quite precisely defines antipodality nor the principle of unequal cultural exchanges. These are disseminated throughout, and need to be titrated from, the sum total of his responses to four major global news events: the Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Wall Street financial crash. Living and writing in Sydney, Wark (1994:xiv) informs that he wants to create his
particular understanding of the global as seen from the antipodes. It's a step toward recognizing that while one cannot escape the necessity of conceptualizing the global, it cannot be thought exclusively from the metropolitan centres. It is only by "provincializing" the metropolitan [...] that an intellectual practice up to the task of thinking the emergent form of virtual geography can emerge. [my emphasis]
This could be taken as an important indication of the implicit prerequisite to admit, or at least to acknowledge, the implications of being antipodal, of being on the other (wrong?) side of the world, of reflecting on and reacting to the main "action" from a distance.
The act of "provincializing" the metropolitan in Wark's terms can be extrapolated to achieve some sort of credence within both filmmaking and theorising in relation to Australian cinema. The 'metropolitan' in the discourse of cinema can effectively be referred to the dominant film practices of Hollywood and Europe. O'Regan (1996:96) explains that
the influence of the Hollywood majors on Australian filmmaking is clear. It needs to be similar to, yet different from the high budget Hollywood product. Too similar and the competition from the major Hollywood product is too evident with the local product compared negatively. Too different and the local and international audience can be alienated, trained into accepting Hollywood protocols as they are.
Such a state of things suggests that the antipodean aesthetic of Australian filmmaking is somehow perpetually "condemned" to hybridise, to concoct mixtures of local and foreign filmic ingredients in order to achieve both critical and commercial success. Hence, "provincializing" the metropolitan indeed encapsulates this balancing act of hybridising the dominant as a measure of readjustment to the context of the "subordinate" and local, here the Australianisation of European and Hollywoodian concepts of filmmaking. Additionally, such an act sooner or later calls for the acknowledgement of unequal cultural exchanges as constituting a driving force to this peculiar form of productivity permitted by the very condition of antipodality itself.
Unequal cultural exchanges are caused primarily by the "unfair" competition and comparison which emerge from the interaction between medium-sized cinemas, often dependent upon government funding, and larger cinemas controlled by corporate giants. O'Regan (1996:90) explains that a medium-sized cinema, such as the Australian one, would occupy a weaker position in the international production and distribution hierarchy because of its lack of extensive or valuable export markets in comparison to larger cinemas. The local product is
not as critically valued in itself but is evaluated - often pejoratively - with respect to imports. When exported, [its] features are rarely as popular or as critically respected internationally as are those of the US and the major European cinemas. (O'Regan, 1996:90)
Furthermore, the relative disadvantages of Australian national cinema's medium-sizedness are dramatically enhanced by its antipodal condition, by the tyranny of distance which invariably marginalises and relegates its practices peripherally in relation to those of the metropolitan centres. Yet, the same antipodal condition synchronically allows the opening of additional spaces for the cultural and cinematic reproduction of texts and discourses - hybridised versions of distant models of reference. Peripheral platforms are eventually transformed - sometimes permanently - into minor centres, subcentres or inevitable stop-overs on the way to the centric core.
The feeling of growing up in a simulated America, in a culture with coordinates which are American, but which somehow don't match the territory at all. It is the opposite feeling to that of the immigrant, who is spatially at home in America, but alienated by language and custom. It is, on the contrary, a perverse intimacy with the language and cultural reference points which nevertheless takes place elsewhere, in a client state on the fringes. [emphasis added]
With the particular feeling that he describes, Wark seems to imply that the antipodean viewer's exposure to American news networks eventually creates for him or her a thorough knowledge and understanding of the American viewpoint and attitude, and of Americana in general. Paradoxically, the implications intrinsic to the antipodal position also cause the spatial dis-location of the same viewer so that he or she is materially distantiated from the point of reference - America - and deprived of the possibility of direct interaction or participation. Such is the case for Wark himself, televisually experiencing the Gulf War or the Wall Street financial crash live from Sydney. He is mentally integrated into but materially dis-located from the American viewpoint and attitude.
Following the above reasoning, the hybridity of filmmaking within Australian cinema can also be considered as an expression of Wark's 'perverse intimacy'. The filmic icons, specific generic conventions and technical inclinations of a film - which formulate the dominant lingua franca of producer and receiver of texts alike - become the coordinates which would establish its "belonging" to a certain cinematic culture, such as that of mainstream Hollywood for example. Yet, the geographical and spatial dis-location of the Australian film, as caused by its inherent antipodality, immediately prevents the available coordinates from ever matching the given cinematic territory.
To illustrate briefly, Richard Franklin's Roadgames (1981) and Dr. George Miller's Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) both indicate a thorough knowledge of the language and cultural specificities of the Hollywoodian thriller/road movie, to the point of including recognisable American icons - Stacey Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tina Turner. At the same time, these two films are dis-located from Hollywood, 'in a client state on the fringes', by virtue of their geospatially unambiguous antipodality, as reiterated textually by the Australian landscape or other iconic physical markers of locality. This sense of 'perverse intimacy' which characterises hybridity within Australian cinema does not need to be restricted to Hollywood-oriented films alone: it can also be extended to films which conceptually possess sharp affinities with European Art cinema without matching that particular physical territory. Such is the case with Gillian Armstrong's The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992) wherein the strong "Australianness" of Beth (Lisa Harrow) could be said to be what primarily anchors the film to its Australian context. At the same time however, according to O'Regan (1996:157), it 'demonstrates a firm grasp of the French [and German] Art film right down to Bruno Ganz's presence'. Indeed, Bruno Ganz has become over the years an important icon of "Europeanness" especially as a result of his repeated collaboration with Wim Wenders - The American Friend (1977), Wings of Desire (1987), Faraway, So Close (1993). His filmic presence anywhere else outside Europe is bound to be overwhelmingly "European", hence the noticeable dis-location of The Last Days of Chez Nous.
Ross Gibson's (1992:xi) consideration of Australian culture as being "feral", as being 'both wild and captive', acknowledges the antipodal condition. At the same time however, feralness seems to be a slight variation of antipodality - it is considered to be always already fused into such a condition. The sense of elasticity from which ("new") meanings and positions are created primarily out of negotiation between polar extremities of comprehensibility and expressibility, is deemed to be a monadic condition in the identification and acknowledgement of the Australian antipodal status. But in feral terms, rather than being considered as continuously "in progress" or as occurring in a particular space at a specific moment, hybridity within Australian cinema was and is always already present. It is not articulated through the ambivalence of coordinates but through their ubiquitous cohabitation.
For Gibson (1992:xi), Australia is simultaneously marginal and central to the worlds of Western power and belief, always already promoted to the frontline as well as relegated to the periphery - ubiquitous not ambivalent.
It is "poised" now as a conundrum for the West - recognizable yet chimerical, present yet exotic: a depot and a clearing house for the world's matter - ideas, raw materials and artifacts - matter which can be understood as feral, as both wild and captive. [emphasis added]
In many ways, feralness does not seem to rely on processes of Australianisation for its expression. It is not significant that the local should negotiate in varying degrees and proportions with foreign or alien elements. The sense of ubiquity associated with feralness implies that the foreign or alien is always already part of or within the local so that negotiative processes - intrinsic to other perspectives of hybridity - are accepted from the start as foundational components. This reasoning can find support in Gibson's (1992:78) comments about Roger Scholes's The Tale of Ruby Rose (1988) for example:
Here is an Australian landscape story that can be comprehended as such only if the definitions of the landscape tradition are radically refigured. In this cinematic "Australia", generically un-Australian types are taking shape in a generically un-Australian habitat. They are there. Either you deny them their classification as "Australian", or you refigure the epithet "Australian".
So, in reference to Wark's (1994:14) earlier explanations, feralness would appear to suggest that the cinematic and cultural coordinates as well as the territory are in fact originally always already simulacric entities; dis-location might not be immediately visible at first glance because it is also simulacrum. As Gibson (1992:x) points out,
contemporary Australia might best be understood a drifting out of its traditional spatial definitions (South Land, Wide Brown Land, Down Under, Antipodes, etc.) toward an orientation where the nation simultaneously exists and disintegrates in a volatile space-time of transnational media and economic systems. [my emphasis]
From the point of view of feralness, the inequality of cultural exchanges and competition, a necessary by-product of the prevalence of transnational systems, does lead to various forms of productivity but not in reactionary terms. The nation and, by extension, its cinema exist and disintegrate simultaneously because space-time continuums - vital to the articulation of positive unoriginality for example - are of lesser importance in a situation wherein all operating coordinates are always already simulacra. Consequently, since the conditions and elements which allow existence and disintegration are not in conflict with each other but simply cohabitate, whatever is (re)produced culturally and cinematically might give the impression of displaying a certain lack of difference and diversity - usually crucial aspects to other approaches pertaining to the theme of hybridity. And this particular aspect of feralness can be emphasised by the intermediary of one important observation made by Wark (1994:66) about antipodality:
[W]here the territory does not correspond to the map, this does not expose the map as "false consciousness". It exposes the territory as a false infrastructure underneath the map. Everything appears as if social relations have to be modified to bring them into line with the symbolic order of the map. [my emphasis]
So, difference and diversity have been naturalised to such an extent in feral terms that they seem to be absent at first glance and can sometimes be forgotten.
By definition, the orientation of an antipodean aesthetic must locate England as the principal reference point in the program. An antipodean aesthetic then, must entail the deployment of the idea of Australia for the definitional purposes of an Anglocentric view of culture. (Gibson, 1992:216)
Shifting the above comment from literature into the discursive arena of Australian cinema, 'England' can obviously be replaced by Hollywood. What is of interest here is Gibson's reiteration that the articulation of an antipodean aesthetic necessarily depends on reference point(s) - as discussed earlier - such as Hollywood for example. Feralness follows this logic with a slight variation. Its ubiquitous nature obviously "redefines" the antipodean aesthetic since referential points are always already fused into its construction. About Dr. George Miller's Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) for example, Gibson (1992:161) writes that
sooner or later everyone will know that Max's story can make sense only if viewers are able to recognize the reenactments and the rhetorics from a myriad cinematic stories [...]. Every sight and sound is carrying vestigial messages from the repeated ceremonies of cinema-going, and the film knows this, the film is about this liturgy, and it tells its watchers so.
Hence, there are no available nor necessary "conflicting" positions upon which feralness might depend in order to be articulated, compared to the antipodean aesthetic of positive unoriginality for instance which relies much more on difference and opposition for its expression.
By virtue of the antipodal condition, other perpectives of hybridity are articulated in negotiative terms: the interaction between some form of recognisable "Australianness", however weak it might be, and clearly foreign or external elements as points of reference. On the other hand, the main tenet of feralness would appear to suggest that such "Australianness" is non-existent but only at first sight. According to Gibson (1992:219),
[i]mages and symbols - semiotic entities with mutable meaning ascribed to them through social interaction - are proposed for Australia by interpreters [...] who come to it with their own systems of meaning; the semiotic entities are proposed by interpreters who preselect the phenomena that are to be designated symbols. The question of whether or not there is some essential Australianness is a non-issue because, as soon as Australia means anything, it is meaning something precisely because it has been incorporated into the epistemology you profess [...]. Australia proposes nothing naturally. [emphasis added]
Australia might propose 'nothing naturally' but there are still certain forms of negotiation which occur. All meaning is virtually pre-determined in terms of how the referential point(s) are always already incorporated by the interpreter - the filmmaker in relation to cinematic discourse. Hence, any form of vernacular "Australianness", for example, is considered to be always already somebody else's interpretation. In other words, "Australianness" is always already a hybrid formation from the point of view of feralness. For example, the car culture of Mad Max (1979) is not a presentation of typical "Australianness" but a re-presentation mediated by Dr. George Miller as the interpreter of images of Australian roads and culture, according to his own systems of meaning (which are in his case Hollywood-bound). Within the same logic, Gibson (1992:172) writes about Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) that
even historically validated notions of Australianness are no longer exclusively relevant. Although the film abounds with nationally specific icons, idioms and leitmotifs, there are also a welter of transnational elements available as raw material for reconstructions.
My own analysis of the Mad Max films - coming up in another chapter - from the perspective of cinematic post-diaspora does amalgamate the issues brought up by Gibson. Yet, the main difference between the two approaches is the negotiative operations and the sense of creation that I physically delineate in Dr. George Miller's films. In other words, there is some sort of ambivalence which I attribute to the idea of "transnational" and which Gibson seems to interpret instead as ubiquitous cohabitation.
Formulated by Jessie Ackermann (1913), in Australia From a Woman's Point of View, as a distinctive feature of Australian culture at the time, the concept of positive unoriginality is contemporarily used by Meaghan Morris (1988) as the dominant leitmotif in her assessment and analysis of Peter Faiman's Crocodile Dundee (1986). In Morris's terms, the latter film is a hybrid text informed and structured by various forms of cinematic and cultural appropriation from outside the context of Australian filmmaking. It is worth noting that she defines "appropriation" as
a critical interpretation, produced in some textual practices, of the intertextuality which is a constitutive principle of all text-making. This interpretation is made explicit by a sign of appropriation: a type of mise en abyme (of the code and/or the énonciation) that generates some kind of explicit commentary on the modifying power, or desired effects, of its own action on other textual elements, other texts.
Mention was made earlier that 'inventive solutions' are automatic or natural outcomes of the antipodal condition, and positive unoriginality, as a critical modificatory process - appropriation - of cultural and cinematic codes, is indeed one of these outcomes within Australian cinema. To quote O'Regan (1996:232): 'Australian cinema's distinctiveness can be found in how it borrows, its one-off nature and the resulting paradox of its achievements' [my emphasis].
There are in fact three theoretical possibilities about unoriginality within Australian cinema according to Morris (1988). From the perspective of (academic and journalistic) criticism, unoriginality can be seen in negative terms as a side-effect of the cultural imperialism which allegedly arises from the pervasive outside influence on a particular film culture. Such would be the case with the dominance of Hollywood's production, distribution and aesthetic standards within the Australian film market. This particular sense of unoriginality would seem to find its expression in films which use Australia merely as an exotic backdrop for, say, purely American stories, genres or stars. In other words, characteristics of the Australian landscape or any sort of distinctive feature of "Australianness" have no direct influence onto the film's narrative construction and progression, like in Norman Dawn's For the Term of his Natural Life (1927) and Leslie Norman's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959) - the two examples used by Morris (1988:245).
The second theory of unoriginality, primarily from the perspective of consumption or spectatorship, is described by Morris (1988:247) as the
cheerful acceptance that it is a natural and necessary thing in modern times. Film is an industry in a Western mega-culture, and Australia is simply part of it; ideals of originality, independence and authenticity are sentimental anachronisms, inappropriate to the combinatoire of industrial cinema [...].
In that sense, and especially by virtue of the inequality of cultural exchanges and competition resulting from Australian cinema's medium-sizedness, it would seem to be in the interest of Australian films to adopt or absorb the norms, standards and practices of dominant film cultures in order to "survive" at all levels. Cinematic "survival" depends not only on favourable reviews and criticism but also on commercial success both within and outside Australia. And commercial success for a medium-size cinema is in turn dependent upon a mastery of the dominant filmic standards, such as those of Hollywood for example, with which the majority of audiences tends to be most familiar. Hence, Morris (1988:247) mentions Richard Franklin's Hitchcockian comedy-thriller Roadgames (1981), as a case of "positive unspecificity", to illustrate the second theory of unoriginality. It should be noted that from the perspective of criticism, the same film can potentially fit into the first theory of unoriginality as well. For example, Bob Ellis commented in 1981 that Roadgames should have been 'made in Southern California, on some other country's taxpayers' money' (The Review, 1981:15) - obviously because of its American casting, its Hollywood-oriented narrative and genre.
Instead of "whingeing" and reacting strongly against Hollywood's cultural imperialism or simply "selling out" by complying to the standards of the dominant film culture, the approach of positive unoriginality, according to Morris (1988:247),
salvages some of the cultural assertiveness of one, and all the economic pragmatism of the other. It rejects both hostility to Hollywood [...] and base denials of Australian contexts [...]. 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.
Crocodile Dundee indeed revises American codes by appropriating - or otherwise image-scavenging, borrowing, stealing, plundering, recoding, rewriting, reworking (Morris, 1988:247) - quite specific and recognisable icons or characteristics of Hollywood (and American) culture to suit the Australian context of the bush and ocker traditions/myths. What is particularly of interest is that such a process is carried out poorly and yet, it is this aspect of transformation - the badness of the appropriation - which is considered to be most valuable. The Australian bush/landscape does not particularly motivate narrative in Crocodile Dundee. It is often a mere (exotic) accessory - as intrinsic to the first theory of unoriginality - for the Hollywood-oriented structure of the storyline as well as to the heavily iconicised characters played by Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski. To recontextualise a comment from Jonathan Rutherford (1990:11), the "otherness" of Crocodile Dundee becomes attractive
for its exchange-value, its exoticism and the pleasures, thrills and adventures it can offer. The power relation [emerging from the film's negotiation with Hollywood] is closer to tourism than imperialism, an expropriation of meaning rather than materials.
Neil Rattigan (1991:101) has written that Crocodile Dundee 'is arguably the most Australian film of the New Australian Cinema', with its "Australianness" firmly implanted in two aspects of its filmic construction: landscape and character. Rattigan is quite right to a certain extent since Mick Dundee indeed carries on his shoulders the myth of the Australian bushman and also borrows from ocker types such as Barry McKenzie (who in turn bears the earlier influence of The Sentimental Bloke made by Raymond Langford in 1919). But the "tourist brochure" look of the film cannot be ignored either. The American "connection" within the narrative structure could in a certain way be interpreted as symbolising Crocodile Dundee's interest in getting the attention of American audiences (/potential tourists). In a similar vein, Morris (1988:248) points out that Crocodile Dundee is an export-drive allegory, self-promotion being Dundee's job as a tourist commodity, and his raison d'être as a hero. Hence, the process of appropriation is not simply a "seductive" gimmick but becomes a (profitable) competitive activity. Morris (1988:253) also points out that
[a]n imbalance in the initial situation (global American control of Australian space) is, by the hero's action, corrected in the final situation (local Australian control of an American space). The means of action - appropriation - works by negotiation rather than by direct challenge.
Indeed, the film does not intend to be radically different or to shock: it actually negotiates within the terms of whatever is available from referential points to "produce" recycled cultural and filmic artefacts or themes.
Positive unoriginality energises an additional cinematic dimension focused on an expanded range of simulacric meaning. The issue becomes how well the "copy" badly emulates its model(s), which explains why O'Regan (1996:233) considers this process as an incompetent Australian (re-)invention of the world. In relation to Stephen McLean's Around the World in 80 Ways (1988) and Crocodile Dundee (1986), O'Regan (1996:234) comments that the strategy of these two films is 'to transform what is the culturally [and filmically] weak Australian position into a comic vehicle that turns the tables on the culturally strong'. The film-simulacrum clearly disadvantages the original not in terms of being any better but in terms of generating more interest and meaning in being precisely a bad appropriation/simulacrum of the original.
Wark (1994:14) was referring earlier to the feeling of growing up in a culture with coordinates which are American, but which somehow do not match the territory at all. With the latter idea in mind, the positive unoriginality of Crocodile Dundee could hence be interpreted as a negotiated modification of available coordinates resulting to the creation of a "new" subterritory within the larger (predominantly American) territory. And Morris (1988:250) considers this as a symbolic nationalist victory declared on internationalist grounds:
appropriation as positive-unoriginality figures as a means of resolving the practical problems of a peripheral cinema, while reconciling conflicting desires for power and independence.
It is worth taking note that O'Regan (1996) supplements the concept of positive unoriginality with the "celebration" of ordinariness, ugliness, quirkiness or dagginess within Australian filmmaking. He uses the example of Paul J.Hogan's Muriel's Wedding (1994) and mentions such actors as Judy Davis, Helen Morse, Jack Thompson and John Mellion to suggest that, in accordance with the Hollywood tradition, Australian types are most likely to be relegated to secondary supporting roles in mainstream-oriented films because of their lack of lustre, their lack of appeal to mass international audiences saturated with the American glitz (except for Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown). Yet, the antipodal status of Australian films tends to create quite a distinctive emphasis on ordinariness so that it ends up being a strong asset rather than a weakening or crippling characteristic.
The need to differentiate the local product sees Australian ugliness staked out as Australia's territory in the cinema [...]. It fits the cultural logic of a medium-sized producer to take the culturally weak position in which Australia is in the supporting cast on the world stage and turns it into a strength: Australia as a cast of colourful "freakish" characters whether it is Muriel, Bazza McKenzie or Mitzi in The Adventures of Priscilla.
Mick Dundee, Alvin Purple, Max Rockatanski, Bubby and Lilian could easily fit into that list too in one way or another. The positioning of such 'colourful "freakish" characters', blended so to speak into familiar and popular generic (often Hollywoodian or European) moulds, is basically what energises ordinariness as positive unoriginality. To quote Wark (1994:153):
In the absence of the falsifying flaw, the simulacrum ceases to be a simulacrum and becomes something else. It lacks the trace of disinformation which authenticates it as an image, a representation.
Hence, within the international cinemascape, the exercise of appropriation performed by such characters and their respective films can only disadvantage their original model(s), which is ultimately what allows for their commercial popularity and success.
Australian agents negotiate with the international cinema on a permanently unequal basis making cultural transfers that much more important to the production, circulation, appreciation and criticism of Australian films. (O'Regan, 1996:213)
Tom O'Regan (1996) structures his explication and application of "cultural transfers" predominantly from the model developed by historian and semiotician of culture Yuri Lotman (1990) who uses it to assess national cultures - 18th and 19th century Russian cultural history in particular. In a more or less similar way as the other perspectives to hybridity addressed so far, O'Regan's model can be seen as analytical strategy primarily focused on negotiation. It is especially pertinent to the inequality of exchange which characterises the relationship between the antipodal Australian context and what are considered to be the dominant or "metropolitan" cinematic and cultural centres.
O'Regan (1996:213) explains that cultural transfers are meant to go 'beyond the simple import/export, unoriginal/original dichotomies and related notions of cultural imperialism usually used to distinguish receiving and sending cultures'. In these terms, the condition of antipodality, which causes Australian culture and cinema to be a shifting centre with mobile identities, is accounted for as an advantage rather than as a disadvantage amidst unequal exchanges - there is indeed a certain degree of similarity here with the "positive unoriginality" approach. In other words, the hybrid nature of Australian filmmaking is (again) seen as a positive contribution rather than as a crippling flaw to Australian national cinema according to the principles of cultural transfer. From the premise that '[a] culture cannot turn itself into a sending culture without being at some point a receiving culture' (1996:213), O'Regan proceeds to describe the five stages of cultural transfer, although he does acknowledge at the end that there are in fact 'no right kinds of cultural transfer' (1996:231).
In the first stage, texts from outside keep their "strangeness" or "foreignness" and are supposed to be interpreted in their "foreign" language of origin; in the scale of values, they are higher up than the local texts of the receiving culture (O'Regan, 1996:214). In other words, this stage implies the making of films uncompromisingly in accordance with external or "foreign" points of reference. Consequently, this is what allows for 'the introduction of new formats, critical paradigms, and combinations of filmmaking' (O'Regan, 1996:217) - crucial for regeneration of and indigenisation within the system to occur in the second stage. Such is the case for Richard Franklin's Patrick (1978). From the start, it strikes as being culturally unspecific: the only panning shot of city skylines in the film could have been done anywhere; the actors do not enjoy any status of strong Australian iconicity; and the accents generally sound more British than Australian.
Patrick can be considered as constituting some kind of homage to, as well as a successful exercise in, Alfred Hitchcock's very own customised thriller/horror genre of film(making). Richard Franklin does not seem to attempt at simply copying any one of Hitchcock's films in spite of the clear visibility of obvious Hitchcockian aspects of style, narrative progression or technique. He is actually referencing (and in the correct way) many different elements from the wide range of films ever made by Hitchcock. Like in Psycho (1960) for example, the progression of Patrick has its starting-point with and is continuously dependent upon one mentally-ill character. In both cases, the mental illness in question is irremediably connected to the mother's death but there is a deliberate paucity of details concerning its origins or history. There is also quite an eerie resemblance between the house where Norman Bates's "mother" stays and the clinic where Patrick is kept - a clinic which is nowhere near more "conventional" representations of psychiatric hospitals.
If in Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock manages to transmit filmically to the viewer the main protagonist's dizzying fear of heights, Franklin manages to do exactly the same thing with electricity in Patrick. The electric waves controlled by Patrick effectively chill the viewer, occasionally inducing shock - like when he moves his head, while being in a "coma", in the semi-darkness of the black-out caused by the matron's electrocution. And high-pitch violins, as most vividly remembered in Psycho (1960), have a noticeable presence on Patrick's soundtrack, particularly efficient in building up tension for certain sequences.
The case of Patrick, by virtue of its lack of connection with the local Australian context, also seems to imply the aspect of "cultural cringe" which can be associated with the first stage wherein 'anything imported is valued more come what may' (O'Regan, 1996:217). Furthermore, the first stage of cultural transfer is crucially dependent upon the cinéphile, upon his or her aptitude in interpreting the "foreign" language employed. It is worth noting Adrian Martin's (1988:120) definition of cinéphilia as 'a general love of or desire for cinema, but it is more specifically constituted by a fixation on American ('Hollywood') cinema' - the "heroes" in the 1960s and 1970s being Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Vincente Minelli, Douglas Sirk and Samuel Fuller amongst others. So, the first stage of cultural transfer cannot be recognised as such without a thorough knowledge of the terms of the "foreign" sending culture. Hence, a lack of specific knowledge of Hitchcock's work is likely to generate a dismissive reading of Patrick as imitation instead of its positive evaluation according to the cinéphile-oriented terms of the first stage of cultural transfer.
In the second stage of cultural transfer, texts pertaining to the "foreign" sending culture and those produced within the local receiving culture restructure each other (O'Regan, 1996:217). Existing genres, formats or conventions from elsewhere are applied by the receiving culture with the addition of fairly distinctive elements of the local context. O'Regan (1996:217) uses as examples what he considers to be Australian "remakes" of known films or stories to illustrate his explanation of the second stage. Hence, Scott Murray's Devil in the Flesh (1989), set in Australia during World War II, is derived from Raymond Radiguet's Le Diable au Corps; Michael Blakemore adapted Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya to make A Country Life (1994); and John Duigan's Far East (1982) is an updated (and re-located) version of Michael Curtiz's Casablanca (1942). Another good example worth mentioning here is Brian Trenchard-Smith's The Man From Hong Kong (1975), a somewhat "opportunist" film tapping into the popularity of "made-in-Hong Kong" martial arts flicks in the aftermath of Bruce Lee's death. The first indication of where the film's roots lie is provided by the fact that it was co-produced with Raymond Chow from Golden Harvest, the company behind all the Bruce Lee films.
The Man From Hong Kong follows an "all-in-one" formula of filmmaking, which is actually fairly similar to that applied in the making of Bombay "masala" films. This formula suggests that martial arts films made in Hong Kong invariably need to include, other than the obvious fighting, moments or sequences of melodrama, romance, intrigue, comedy, gore and sex. The Man From Hong Kong contains an authentic martial arts expert as the hero (Jimmy Wang Yu), underworld references in the shape of international drug syndicates, romantic scenes and low-key sex scenes, and of course heaps of fighting at any opportunity. The film can easily pass for a "genuine" Golden Harvest product considering its undeniable similarities with Bruce Lee's own The Way of the Dragon (1972) or Enter the Dragon (1973) for example.
The production crew and the very obvious Australian locations (Ayers Rock/Uluru, Sydney Opera House and so on) are clear elements of the Australian contribution to the film. It also includes George Lazenby - 'Australia's own world karate champion' according to the video jacket - as the main "baddie"; Bill Hunter in a minor role; Hugh Keays-Byrne, later to play The Toecutter in Mad Max (1979), as a local cop (he turns up with the best line of the film after Jimmy Wang Yu trashed a restaurant during a fight: "This is Australia mate not the 55 Days of Peking!"). A sense of "cultural cringe" is again present since Brian Trenchard-Smith's film conveys a potential feel of imitation - making "Hong Kong" in Australia. But there are nevertheless early processes of transformation and negotiation operating, processes which can be positively assessed within the terms of the second stage of cultural transfer.
To recapitulate, Patrick indicates an excellent mastery of Hitchcock but it can never be (considered) as good as or better than Hitchcock. In other words, films pertaining to the first stage of cultural transfer cannot become referential points but remain perpetual receivers. Same for The Man From Hong Kong within the second stage which, in spite of its Australian contextualisation, can never quite achieve a similar status as Hong Kong martial arts films such as those with Bruce Lee (now with Jackie Chan). Whether such types of films are pathetic imitations/pastiches or brilliant adaptations/tributes is a matter of personal judgement based primarily upon cinéphiliac knowledge. Yet, these two "gestative" stages open up possibilities for further hybridisation and constitute the foundation for the next three stages of cultural transfer.
The third stage of cultural transfer can be understood as a more elaborate transformation and development of the first and second stages. According to O'Regan (1996:219-20), the third stage 're-evaluates the home culture's product in a situation of assumed international comparison' - receiving texts become as good as the model(s) they might seem to follow. And this particular stage is dependent upon perception too, albeit not of the cinéphile but of the (academia-trained) film critic.
Filmic evaluation and comparison of a critical nature occurs predominantly within the scenery of cinema festivals. Hence, certain Australian films can be assessed according to the terms proposed by the third stage of cultural transfer in virtue of their (noticeable) presence at festival venues around the world. Presence is indeed already an indication of being "as good as" other films entered by internationally famous directors. And the "equality" of Australian films with their counterparts from other countries is additionally validated by their reception of publicised critical acclaim. Such is the case when Phillip Noyce's Newsfront was invited to open the London Film Festival in 1978 (Stratton, 1980:210); or when Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career was selected to compete officially at Cannes in 1979 - 'where Judy Davis only just missed out on winning the Best Actress award' (Stratton, 1980:219); when Russell Boyd won a British Film Academy Award for Best Photography for Picnic at Hanging Rock and Bruce Petty's Leisure won an Oscar for Best Animated Film, both in 1977 (Stratton, 1980:xviii); and when a Grand Prix was attributed to Dr. George Miller's Mad Max II at Avoriaz in 1982. O'Regan (1996:220) - deriving his authority from Stuart Cunningham (1983:237) - refers to the Mad Max cycle as an example of texts which relate to the third stage because they reveal a mastery of the road-movie genre to the point of outdoing their Hollywoodian models (an extensive analysis of the Mad Max films is provided in chapter four).
The fourth stage of cultural transfer is one of assimilation whereby the imported element(s) blend(s) "naturally" into the landscape of the receiving culture. The local text ceases to be a copy and becomes a referential point, in similar terms as any of its models with which a nexus could potentially be established. To quote Yuri Lotman (1990:146):
During this stage [...] the culture itself changes to a state of activity and begins rapidly to produce new texts; these new texts are based on cultural codes which in the distant past were stimulated by invasions from outside, but which now have been wholly transformed through the many asymmetrical transformations into a new and original structural model.
In that sense, the fourth stage could be considered as being just a minor step ahead of the third stage. Hence, the Mad Max cycle, while being a component of the third stage, can relevantly be discussed according to the terms of the fourth stage. The Mad Max films are equally valued as, and simultaneously become referential points for, other (Hollywood) films belonging to related genres of filmmaking - Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon trilogy (1987, 1989 and 1992) and Kevin Reynolds's Waterworld (1995) immediately come to mind here.
Even more interesting is the transformation of Mad Max into a series for American television. To quote Encore ('Miller Brings Max to TV', 11-26 Dec.1995:12):
[Dr.] George Miller has signed with Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution (WBDTD) to produce and direct Mad Max: The Road Warrior, a weekly action hour for fall 1996 based on the Mad Max feature trilogy. [...] The show has cleared 20% of the US market on United Paramount Network affiliates, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In relation to television series, O'Regan (1996:220-1) mentions Neighbours and The Dismissal as other examples pertinent to the fourth stage: 'the Australian soap and the 'Australian model' of television become seen as objects in their own right'. Flipper can also be mentioned here considering its fairly successful revival in 1996 as a television series (launched by Goldwyn in the USA).
The fifth stage of cultural transfer moves away from processes of assimilation, breaking off completely with any possible model or point of reference and proceeding to "colonise" the international cinemascape as a genuine and perhaps uncontested referential point in its own right. As Lotman (1990:146) explains:
[t]he receiving culture, which now becomes the general centre of the semiosphere, changes into a transmitting culture and issues forth a flood of texts directed to other, peripheral areas of the semiosphere [...]. As with any dialogue, a situation of mutual attraction must precede the actual contact.
Films pertaining to this stage may or may not be strongly culturally-specific to Australia but they would seem in any case to claim cultural and cinematic universality in the sense of speaking to the world. In other words, such films are in fact closer to the cinematic homeland of an "Internationalised cinema" in accordance with the terms of a cinematic post-diaspora. For example, O'Regan (1996:222) suggests that films within the fifth stage are 'routinely criticized as selling out Australian specificity' - such as Jane Campion's The Piano (1993) and Chris Noonan's Babe (1995). These two films in particular would seem to infer that they become referential points within the fifth stage of cultural transfer because they are somewhat eclectic or schizogenic - they are intra- and extra-textually difficult to "locate" with regards to genre and style. As Philip Bell (Metro, 1995:57) explains, 'The Piano is, in some respects, an anachronism: a popular women's film, a melodrama' but he never quite manages in fact to find some kind of more specific or appropriate terms of identification for the film.
It is highly stylised, by turns comical, lyrical, metaphorical. As an "art" film it would be expected to involve an open-ended, ambiguous narrative, and distanced, intellectual appeal, rather than to provoke the degree of audience engagement which many find literally overwhelming, but difficult to explain. (Bell, 1995:57).
So, here is a film which does not quite belong neither to Art nor to mainstream cinema; it is both an intellectual as well as a popular film; a "conventional" melodrama as well as a "feminist discussion" about the representation of the colonial Victorian woman. This kind of ambivalence is another indication of why it would actually fit into the category of "Internationalised cinema" which I explicate in the following chapter.
By extension, the classificatory complexities of The Piano would also imply that films within the fifth stage of cultural transfer are either ambiguously specific or else unspecific to Australian culture. Maori and New Zealander settler culture are part of The Piano's backdrop and Maoris are indirectly connected to the evolution of the plot. But is The Piano an Australian film? According to Wark (1995:202):
The answer is less interesting than what the question reveals: a New Zealand director, an Australian producer, New Zealand locations, American principal cast, Australian development money, a French co-production with a major American distribution deal. This is 'Australian' cinema in the 1990s: a blend of the local and the international, the subsidised and the market-driven - a set of contradictions that have to be resolved not only in the contracts up there on the screen.
The Piano can also be seen as a fairytale in terms of how it creates a world of its own in spite of the issues or intellectual inclinations which might be detected but never quite become predominant. To the horror of its "fans", The Piano could additionally be viewed as a very long Enya-style music video (in the same way that Paul J.Hogan's Muriel's Wedding (1994) could be described as a compilation of ABBA videos). And this could find support in Bell's (Metro, 1995:60) comment that
The Piano is conceived musically - arranged around recurrent metaphorical motifs of the ocean, water, mud. It repeats and varies sequences of movement and stasis, of music and silence and noise, of comical and real violence.
Ultimately, the whole film is focused upon a handful of pivotal elements: piano keys, fingers and scopophiliac pleasures, both on and off screen.
Theorising an Australian cinematic post-diaspora and the application of its principles are vitally contingent to a cinéphiliac as well as to a critical orientation, both in local and foreign terms, because of the sense of intertextuality which impregnates the whole process. This should also be visible within the various perspectives to cinematic hybridity presented and it should now be clear that they are indeed bonded to each other. Hence, Gibson's "feralness" has connections with O'Regan's fourth and fifth stages of cultural transfer as well as with certain aspects of Morris's "positive unoriginality". Morris's first and second ("positive unspecificity") theories of unoriginality suggest similarities with O'Regan's first two stages of cultural tranfer; and "positive unoriginality" itself resembles O'Regan's third stage of cultural transfer. All these approaches and their ramifications are primordially influenced and "regulated" by Australian cinema's condition of antipodality - as understood from Wark's point of view. The development and progression of an Australian cinematic diaspora/post-diaspora encompasses elements derived from all of these perspectives. This is why extensive analysis of films has not been provided in some parts of this chapter where it might have been expected: these films will be re-emerging in consequent chapters in a more or less similar shape.
New: 16 December, 1996 | Now: 29 April, 2015