Australian Film > Venkatasawmy > Chapter 4

The Hybridity of Filmmaking in Australian National Cinema: Formulating a Cinematic Post-diaspora

Rama Venkatasawmy

Hons Dissertation Murdoch University

Chapter 4
Australian cinematic post-diaspora

The "cinematic post-diaspora" represents an attempt to justify and contain the hybridity of certain films - as transnational "subjects" within the national cinema structure. As James Clifford (1994:311) explains, '[t]ransnational connections break the binary relation of minority communities with majority societies - a dependency that structures projects of both assimilation and resistance', which is particularly of significance to the relationship between Australian cinema and Hollywood for instance. While the urgency of a nationalist outlook might have sometimes created a convenient imperialist label for Hollywood cinema, a shift towards a transnational cinematic post-diaspora should provide an adequate discursive arena for issues of imperialism within national cinema to be re-negotiated under the rubric of hybridity.

Coming to terms with the hybridisation of "Australianness"

As explained previously, the diasporic experience does not occur in isolation within the context of the "adopted" country of residence; the diasporic identity is bound to undergo transformation under the "pressure" of local influences. While most theories of diaspora have generally been inclined to insist on a final homecoming, it is necessary to recognise the oscillatory relationship between the imagination of the original homeland and the demands of the "adopted" country of residence, a relationship which consequently requires a re-consideration of the diaspora as a site of hybridity. In latter terms, the diasporic subject's identity is constantly under negotiation between the ways and practices of the homeland and those of the "adopted" country of residence, an identity ambivalently re-created through the discourses of "here" and of "there". Hence, for Anthony Smith (1986:51) what seems to prevail is

a state of vacillation in which many ethnic members remain deeply attached to their communities while seeking to organize their lives and careers according to the norms and practices of the national state, and conversely refuse to give up the rights and benefits of the incorporating state while at the same time striving to enhance the culture and political influence of their ethnie [or diaspora]. Hence, the tendency to try to combine the claims of citizenship with the inner demands of ethnic solidarity.

Acceptance of hybridity naturalises the inevitable overlapping of multiculturalism, ethnicity, identity and citizenship, amongst other things, within the country/nation-state of adoption.

[A]ll sorts of ambiguities and tensions emerge in the relations between states and ethnie [or diaspora], so that many people [...] find themselves divided in their allegiances between loyalty to the state to which they belong, and a lingering but explosive solidarity to the ethnie of their birth and upbringing. (Smith, 1986:130)

The need to shift from diaspora to post-diaspora, as explicated previously, is mobilised and gains credence by virtue of the inconsistency of diaspora to account for and validate the tension, transformation and hybridisation inherent in the displaced subject's identity.

Figure 1 illustrates the whole process of transition from displacement to diaspora to post-diaspora.

Central to the post-diaspora is the process of reconstruction of the original homeland orchestrated in terms of a negotiated duality. The imagined homeland is where the displaced subject's "ancestral" identity originates from and toward which his or her locally reconfigured contemporary hybrid identity is partially focused. Indian-Mauritians for example might perpetuate the myth of India, through everyday practices, as the "real" homeland, the legitimising agent and marker of authenticity that uplifts the "Indianness" of the displaced subject. At the same time, this imagination is influenced or even constrained by the local exigencies of the "adopted" country of residence, eventually to be slowly diluted in the process. The displaced subject loses sight of but does not totally forget the homeland of origin. The question of a physical return eventually becomes improbable although it still retains a symbolic value by the intermediary of the everyday socio-cultural practices of post-diasporic subjects in their "adopted" country of residence.

A cinematic post-diaspora is needed in similar terms to account for the lacunae inherent to the theorisation of cinematic diaspora and to legitimise the shifting nature of national cinemascapes consequential to the trangression and reconfiguration of cinematic boundaries by transnational, "displaced" films. Just as ethnic diaspora cultures 'mediate, in a lived tension, the experiences of separation and entanglement, of living here and remembering/desiring another place' (Clifford, 1994:311), the dominant aesthetics of an Australian cinematic post-diaspora should be conceived in terms of an (unequal) split between at least three different ideologies of filmmaking. A more "extremist" perspective seems to be offered by Brian McFarlane & Geoff Mayer (1992:10) when they suggest that

[t]o anyone interested in cinema it must, we feel, be obvious that all narrative cinema is indebted to the American paradigms and practices. It is, perhaps, not going too far to claim that, where such paradigms do not dominate, where their enunciatory practices are not espoused [...], they are consciously challenged.

But to return to the idea of the "split", there is on the one hand, a commercially-viable mainstream form of filmmaking shaped and structured by classic Hollywood standards and American film practices, aimed predominantly at "Americanised" - local and international - audiences. On the other hand, there is an intellectualised and abstract "festival"-oriented filmmaking informed and influenced by (European) Art cinema tendencies and practices, aimed at specific audiences such as those of the art-house circuit. And there are the schizogenic tendencies of Internationalised cinema, oriented towards multi-national co-productions and not specifically aimed at any audience.

The common link between these three ideological trends is the extent to which "Australianness" is emphasised or downplayed in the filmmaking process. Hence, to bring in Paul Gilroy's (1993) principle of double-consciousness, films of the cinematic post-diaspora are conceived in terms of a negotiation between being "here" - Australia - and "remembering""there" - Hollywood, (European) Art cinema or Internationalised cinema. As illustrated by McFarlane & Mayer (1992:4) for example:

the most commercially successful films of the Australian film revival - Mad Max (1979), The Man From Snowy River (1982), Crocodile Dundee (1986) - have reworked American genres (road movie, Western, populist comedy) of forty years ago in such ways as to dramatise the mythologies and to meet the psychic needs of Australians and others in the 1980s.

Figure 2 provides a clearer visualisation of how the cinematic post-diaspora is engendered.

Sites of Australian cinematic post-diaspora

The intrinsic double-consciousness of Australian cinema has allowed films such as Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career (1979) and Fred Schepisi's Evil Angels (1988) amongst others to speak fluently to domestic and international audiences alike.

The middle years of the 1980s saw something of a return to the situation in the early 1970s. Rather as if the mythic Australian themes had been exhausted, new filmmakers were looking for new directions. There was more experimentation, more searching for new images and themes, and new methods of financing feature film production led to the internationalisation of films and attempts to produce genre films that owed more to Hollywood models than to Australian cultural identity. (Rattigan, 1991:8)

Gillian Armstrong's Starstruck (1982) also fits into this particular scheme of things in the sense that it is a hybrid, an Australianisation of the typical Hollywoodian musical genre. It could indeed be traced back to Randal Kleiser's Grease (1978) or George Cukor's West Side Story (1961). To quote Stuart Cunningham (1983:239):

I said that Starstruck Australianises the musical. The representation of Australia has been recently organised around a series of powerful bursts of utopian mythologising, like the Advance Australia campaign and innumerable instances of media advertising. What is significant about Starstruck, in this refurbishing of national concensus, is that the musical is probably the most appropriate cinematic genre in which such utopianism may surface.

And the situation described by Rattigan (1991) seems to have persisted even up to the 1990s considering the production in Australia of such films as George Miller's Gross Misconduct (1993), John Dingwall's The Custodian (1993) and Phillip Brophy's Body Melt (1994). Much more recently, Megan Simpson Huberman's Dating The Enemy (1996) noticeably takes up the "gender-bending" tradition in cinema, which could be traced to Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959).

Simon Wincer's Quigley Down Under (1992) is also part of the trend described above except that it also provides an indication of the "downside" of cinematic hybridity - when borrowing from or adapting foreign elements is so poorly done that the result is ordinary. Quigley Down Under tries (hard) to be a "good ol' Western", to the point of having Tom Selleck in the main role as some kind of validating agent for its intended connections with Hollywood and "Americanness". Familiar icons of the Western have not been forgotten in Quigley Down Under but they have undergone transformation or Australianisation. The search for an Australian "feel" has led Simon Wincer to substitute North American Indians and the prairies of the "wild west" for Australian Aborigines and bush landscapes. But that does not seem to have helped the film very much. As Pascal Pernod (Positif, 1991:90-1) explains,

la mise en scène, à des années-lumières d'Anthony Mann et d'Allan Dwan, ne sait pas donner le moindre nerf, la moindre séduction visuelle à ces duels ou à ces chevauchées très platement filmés et découpés. Et la musique, digest tonitruant d'une idée du western totalement dépersonalisée, achève de faire renoncer le spectateur à toute quête d'air frais.

the mise en scène, light years away from Anthony Mann and Allan Dwan, is unable to provide any vitality, any visual appeal to those duels or horse-chase scenes which have been so blandly filmed and edited. And the soundtrack, some kind of blustering digestion of an idea of the utterly impersonal western, shatters the hopes of the viewer for any possibility of fresh air.

It should be noted that the processes of hybridisation observed in Quigley Down Under could indeed be connected to Tom O'Regan's (1996) second stage of cultural transfer.

It is also important to acknowledge that the process of searching for new images and themes is not only Hollywood-oriented but is also instructed by certain styles and formats of Art cinema especially of the European tendencies such as Jerzy Domaradzki's Lilian's Story (1996). In that sense, Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) is somewhat of a precursor in the encapsulation of the post-diasporic dilemma of being both "here" and "there": its "Australianness", although overtly mystical as somewhat reiterated in The Last Wave (1977) for example, is textually unambiguous. But generically and stylistically, its aspirations can be located in (European) Art/Horror cinema - Roman Polanski's Dance of the Vampires (1967) or maybe Roger Vadim's Et Mourir de Plaisir (1960) could be considered as possible source here. 'Picnic at Hanging Rock is a rarity in that it was the only[sic] Australian film to clearly reject the narrative conventions of the classical system in favour of the European Art film' (MacFarlane & Meyer, 1992:53). In a similar vein, O'Regan (1996:157) suggests that Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby (1994) 'is close to some Eastern European, particularly Polish, cinema'. It is indeed an intellectually demanding, or even draining, film in terms of how it powerfully segues into areas of psychology and sociology for instance. The visual look of Bad Boy Bubby is inclined towards causing uneasiness, to say the least, especially in the case of an Australian audience for example which is more used to the "comfort" of (Hollywood) mainstream cinema and to the more "easy-going" forms of Art cinema available here. This is clearly illustrated by the disturbing claustrophobic opening half hour - the film's "make or break" for most viewers, which explains why it flopped at the box-office in spite of general critical acclaim. Bad Boy Bubby seems to have ended up achieving a minor (video) cult status mostly amongst university students and "underground" or "alternative" crowds, which is often the case for many conceptually similar films from Eastern Europe.

A good reason for considering Crocodile Dundee as a site of cinematic post-diaspora is its strong indebtedness to the American hillbilly genre, to such types as the Clampetts of The Beverly Hillbillies - a popular televison series in the 1960s, continuously enjoying repeats or reruns since then - and Ma and Pa Kettle in the 1950s. Hence, J.W. Williamson (1995:94) sees Crocodile Dundee as

the Australian import that may have captured the full, transgressively wooded spirit of the coonskin-cape hero/fool better than any American movie has ever done. As the Australian version of Davy Crockett (with croc-teeth replacing coonskin) Paul Hogan plays the backwoods scapegoat for the purpose of criticising modern mainstream American culture. [emphasis added]

Davy Crockett (as well as Tarzan and Jungle Jim) is actually mentioned in the film itself by Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) in relation to Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan). At the same time however, the latter also displays unambiguous characteristics of "fair dinkum Aussie-ness" in terms of the ways in which he is firmly entrenched into the local bush culture/myth. It is impossible not to see in Mick Dundee potential references to R.M. Williams, to the stories of Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson or Joseph Furphy, to the paintings of Tom Roberts or Frederick McCubbins, for instance. This kind of cinematic hybridity in the characterisation of Mick Dundee which emerges from the interaction between some form of vernacular American hillbilly culture and the Australian bush context has already been discussed under the rubric of Meaghan Morris's (1988) "positive unoriginality". It might be of interest here to point out that the idea of "positive unoriginality", as applied to Crocodile Dundee, actually appears to have been brought up slightly earlier than Morris, as illustrated by the following comments from Iannis Katsahnias (Cahiers du Cinéma, 1987:58):

Crocodile Dundee prône les mêmes valeurs que le cinéma américain de l'ère de l'innocence, avec moins de talent peut-être, mais avec plus de naïveté. [...] La trouvaille est artificielle, montée de toutes pièces, mais elle est proposée avec tellement de désinvolture qu'elle finit par marcher et par prouver combien le public aujoud'hui a soif d'innocence au cinéma. [emphasis added]

Crocodile Dundee preaches similar values as the American cinema of the era of innocence, maybe with less talent, but with more naiveness. [...] The finding is artificial, completely made up, but it is proposed with such unselfconsciousness that it ends up working as well as proving the thirst of contemporary audiences for innocence in cinema.

Aboriginal issues could be said to have "benefitted" from this particular characteristic of double-consciousness possessed by Australian cinema. Films (or documentaries) clearly labelled as Aboriginal-oriented often run the risk of creating certain forms of pre-conceived expectations which might then lead to indifference or opposition. By being compartmentalised from the start, important issues in such films are consequently marginalised in the sense of not being able to reach as wide an audience as they deserve. But, in accordance with the principles of an Australian cinematic post-diaspora, the hybridisation or Australianisation of more "familiar" filmic formats allows Aboriginal issues to have a smoother vehicle of transmission and to be more easily accessible to a wider as well as diversified range of audiences, locally and internationally. Such is the case with Phillip Noyce's Backroads (1977), a fairly typical road-movie in the tradition of Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1969) or Wim Wenders's Kings of the Road (1976) for instance. But the interaction and dialogues between Jack (Bill Hunter) the white vagrant and Gary (Gary Foley) the Aboriginal youth would appear to turn the film more into some kind of a polemical essay about issues of Aboriginal poverty and of the responsibility of white Australians. Indeed, during an interview with Jim Emerson (Film Comment, 1992:72), Noyce seems to confirm the filmic hybridisation of Aboriginal issues he has carried out in Backroads:

This guy - he was an Australian - said, "Backroads was an American road movie disguised as a political message about Australian Aborigines." I said, "Hang on, that's not what it was. It was a political message disguised as an American road movie!" [my emphasis]

Danish-born Esben Storm's Deadly (1992) shares similar predicaments as Backroads in the sense that it also discusses an important contemporary Aboriginal issue according to the terms of a noticeably mainstream Hollywoodian filmic format. The problem of Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia is re-presented following the conventions of a typical "action/cop/thriller" flick. Hence, while congruously describing it as a "whodunnit" and a "whydunnit", Storm acknowledges that

[i]t's structured like a Schwarzenegger film ... Some films that you really admire have a real sense of climax and that's what we're trying to achieve with this one. (George; Encore, 1990:10)

The Mad Max films as cinematic post-diaspora

Dr. George Miller's Mad Max trilogy could be seen as constituting one of the sites of Australian cinematic post-diaspora par excellence. These particular films could indeed be acknowledged as successful exercises in "Australianisation", in the hybridisation of elements, characteristics and markers which fundamentally "belong" to a particular homeland - Hollywood in this instance. These films seem to display a constant negotiation between being "here" and "remembering" "there" through processes of transformation and (re)integration of markers of Hollywood to fit the local Australian context. Compared to Babe for example, Dr. Miller does not seem very concerned about concealing or at least masking "Australianness" in the Mad Max films: on the contrary, it seems to blend in and negotiate quite well with the Hollywoodian narrative structure.

Même si l'action de Mad Max, premier film d'un réalisateur australien, se déroule sur les routes australiennes dans un futur proche, rien ne s'y retrouve, du point de vue dramatique, qu'on n'aie déjà mille fois vu dans des westerns, des films de poursuite, des séries B à la Corman, etc... Le plaisir est plutôt de reconnaître ce que l'on connaît déjà par coeur.

(Chion; Cahiers du Cinéma, 1982:63-4)

Even if the action in Mad Max, first film of an Australian director, occurs on Australian roads in a near future, there is nothing from the viewpoint of narrative which has not been seen in Westerns, chase movies, B-grade Corman-type films, etc... The pleasure is rather in the recognition of what is already known by heart.

As the above comment suggests, the pleasure of Mad Max (especially for the non-Australian cinéphile) is one based purely on the recognition of the cinematically familiar, here the recognition of the cinematic homeland's - Hollywood - presence within the film's structure. But for spectators who have developed a prior familiarity with filmic "Australianness", there is an additional pleasure of identifying and recognising various local markers which simultaneously validate the occurence of the action in Australia rather than anywhere else.

In the first part of the trilogy, Max Rockatanski is defined by Dr. George Miller in very clear-cut, unambiguous terms as usually intrinsic to male heroes or lead characters of classical or mainstream Hollywood films. It is interesting to note that he is at first presented as a more or less "normal" man - with a day job and a family - although simultaneously displaying various iconic characteristics while on the road, which hence keeps him always firmly entrenched within the domain of fiction, of the probable. As Serge Le Péron (Cahiers du Cinéma, 1982:61) suggests:

On reconnaît bien dans Mad Max II les principales qualités de Mad Max I: une incroyable énergie émane du récit et des personnages, le rythme fictionnel est toujours soutenu, les ingrédients mythologiques sont follement intégrés à la mise en scène; on y relève même un certain sens des situations épiques. [emphasis added]

One can recognise clearly in Mad Max II the principal chracteristics of Mad Max I: an incredible energy comes out of the story and of the characters, the fictional rhythm is always sustained, the ingredients of mythology are excellently integrated into the mise-en-scène; one can even pick a certain coming to terms with epic situations.

Even if the other icons - Jim Goose or The Toecutter's gang - dominate the major part of the film, Max Rockatanski more or less retains his iconic stature in a somewhat subdued way until his sudden transformation into a fully mythic figure at the very end. Hence, by the time of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome Danny Peary (1987:256) suggests that

Mel Gibson's post-apocalyptic superhero completes his transition from human being to demon to warrior to mythic figure: [...] he ends up as a messiah who fits into the histories-myths of numerous cultures.

And this is illustrated by the narration of the grown-up Feral Kid in Mad Max II and by the last shot of the older desert children telling the story of Max to their progenies in the third part.

The iconic character played by Mel Gibson suggests at least three possible influences from other classic Hollywoodian filmic icons. At a superficial level, that is purely in terms of physical look, there is a very powerful resemblance between Marlon Brando in Laslo Benedek's The Wild One (1954) and Max in the first part of the trilogy. Especially revealing is the introduction on screen of both characters in their respective films which displays a photographic concentration inside the frame on various details and macho/"heroic" stances so typical of male iconic figures: "aviator" sunglasses, matte black leather jackets, tight dark pants, leather boots, hard (unemotional) facial features and "cool" mannerisms.

The second visible influence on Max gains credence by the intermediary of the transformation he undergoes due to the occurrence of a specific event in the narration. In that sense, the radical change from Max Rockatanski to Mad Max is very similar to that undergone by Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) from liberal architect to merciless vigilante and secret avenger of New York city in Michael Winner's Death Wish (1974). The main difference is that Max's transformation is motivated by narrative development and happens at the very end while Paul Kersey's transformation occurs early in the film and decides the rest of the film's evolution.

What drives Paul Kersey to carry a gun and "clean up" New York city is the murder of his wife and the rape of his daughter by three delinquents (he never quite encounters them directly to fulfil his revenge but "satisfaction" is obtained from the killing, or rather the execution of many other street thugs). The same principle applies to Max Rockatanski: for most of the film, he never uses his gun or indicates any desire to kill in cold blood, even thinking of resigning after The Goose's fatal ambush - until his wife and child are murdered by The Toecutter's bikie gang. Only then does he acquire Paul Kersey's "death wish" in being motivated by anger and desire for revenge - living or dying becomes unimportant. 'The death of Max's baby symbolizes the true death of the human race - and Max, desensitized and dehumanized, puts his uniform back on, gets into his police car and rejoins the Rat Circus' (Peary, 1987:256).

The Clint Eastwood persona in Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, especially the "man with no name" character of Fistful of Dollars (1964), is another influence from which Max takes from, especially in Mad Max II. The "man with no name" is not altogether bad, nor is he altogether good: he is primarily an opportunist as illustrated by his exploitation of a feud between two families to make money, although his humanity surfaces once in a while, like when he helps a defenceless woman and her child to escape from their captor. The Road Warrior is also an opportunist whose main concern is to get petrol for his car wherever and however he can. But the humanity of Max, lost at the end of the first film, re-emerges slowly in the sequel particularly when he decides to help the White Tribe to escape from Hummungus and his gang. It also surfaces in his "paternal" relationship with the Feral Kid. Both the "man with no name" and the Road Warrior are mythic loners, skilled with guns and weapons, roaming wide open spaces, coming from nowhere and going nowhere in particular. They are both involved in other people's fights, never adhering totally to one particular side and eventually returning to the state they were in at the start. Clint Eastwood's character is a mythic figure of a re-invented frontier of the past while Max the Road Warrior is a mythic figure of an invented (post-apocalyptic) frontier of the future.

Yet, while the characterisation of Max encompasses so many Hollywoodian influences, he also possesses the attitudinal traits of a long line of mythical Australian "underdog" heroes/battlers: from Harry "Breaker" Morant (Edward Woodward) to Michael Stacey (Ray Barrett) in Carl Schultz's Goodbye Paradise (1983) or from Jack Foley (Jack Thompson) in Ken Hannam's Sunday Too Far Away (1975) to China (Bryan Brown) in Stephen Wallace's Stir! (1980). Susan Dermody & Elizabeth Jacka (1988a:176) suggest that '[i]f Max is a warrior-hero, he's a reluctant one, with something of the Bryan Brown persona's quality of being "on to himself" '. It is possible to discern in Max traces of other mythical Australian heroes. Like Harry "Breaker" Morant, Max is a reluctant (disillusioned) hero; like Jack Foley the top-gun shearer or Frank Dunne the runner, external forces beyond his control always prevent Max from "winning" completely.

There is an interesting parallel between Mad Max II and Gallipoli. In the latter film the Australian soldiers, while being used as decoys to allow for a safe disembarkment of British troops, end up being aimlessly massacred; Max is also used as a pawn, "sacrificed" to Hummungus to allow The White Tribe's safe escape. 'There's no outrage in Max when he finds sand not oil in the tanker at the end' (Dermody & Jacka, 1988a:176), just like there is no real outrage but resignation when Breaker Morant and his mates are sacrificed by the means of a death sentence to "appease" the German government and open negotiations.

Contrary to the Hollywood hero, the Australian hero often turns out to be a pawn in the game of others which explains why he can never quite "win" in absolute terms on all grounds and why Max can never totally be an all-round Hollywood hero. Like his famous Australian filmic counterparts, Max is a battler trying to "make it" through adversity, against all odds and constantly improvising as he goes along, unambitious and uncertain of what he really wants to achieve (even when Pappagello offers him the chance to join them for a better future in the north, while in the third sequel Max chooses to stay behind in the desert in order to allow the plane to take off and carry the children away to a better place). Although made a few decades ago, the following comment from Donald Horne (1964:31) about this particular trait of "Australianness" would be very relevant here:

There is little public glorification of success in Australia. The few heroes or heroic occasions (other than those of sport) are remembered for their style rather than for their achievement. [...] To be game, not to whinge - that's the thing - rather than some dull success coming from organization and thought.

Complementary to the predicaments of Mad Max the warrior-superhero is the importance attached in the trilogy to vehicles of transportation - bikes, fast cars, trucks and other various "hybrids" - within the combination of different vehicle-oriented Hollywood genres from which the three films evolve: the road-movie, the chase film, the "Roman" epic, the truckie drama or the bikie film. In that sense, the Mad Max films bear the undeniable influence of Hollywood classics such as Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night (1948), Arthur Ripley's Thunder Road (1958) and Laslo Benedek's The Wild One (1954). Between the latter film and Mad Max I for example, there is an amazing similarity between two sequences in each film wherein the bikie gang enters and disturbs the monotony of the (stereotypical) quiet little town. The gladiatorial look of the characters, especially in the two sequels, suggests a strong connection with the "made-in-Hollywood" Roman epic such as Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960). And the spectacularity of the violent chase scenes is an indication of how Dr. George Miller and Byron Kennedy

had a mutual "obsession" for the pure kinetics of chase movies, from Ben Hur (1959) to Bullitt (1968), from Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd silent comedies to biker films such as The Wild One (1954) and those made by Roger Corman at AIP. (Peary, 1988:208)

The process of hybridity, within the terms of Australian cinematic post-diaspora, can be said to occur through Dr. Miller's "Australianisation" of the filmic sources described above, in other words through his acknowledgement of the general Australian "neurosis" with a car culture and accidents/road tolls within his combination of Hollywood genres. As Danny Peary (1988:208) points out,

[Miller and Kennedy] were fascinated by Australia's car culture: in the sixties, deserted rural roads were used as much for sporting arenas as they were for transportation and there was a disproportionate number of highway casualties.

Hence, the violent car crashes and the graphic display of body injuries (burns, bleeding cuts and gaping wounds) are directly related to Dr. Miller's personal experiences of road trauma in a hospital casualty ward, while doing his internship as a medical graduate, as well as to the frequent coverage (visual and print) of road fatalities by the Australian media. While international audiences might not necessarily be in a position to decode this thematic reference to Australian car culture, local audiences are very likely to be reminded through Mad Max of Peter Weir's The Cars That Ate Paris (1974), of the Torana V8s and of engines boosted with nitrous oxide - familiar markers of (illegal) drag racing in the Australian countryside - of road tolls, of "bogans", "motor/petrol" heads. The emphasis on the shortage of fuel in the two sequels is yet another local(ised) reference, according to Peary (1987:255), to the 'petrol rationing in Australia in the seventies, which caused a surprising amount of violence'.

The Mad Max films have sometimes been criticised both in Australia and elsewhere for their unnecessary gruesome graphic violence, but even that suggests a connection with the principles of Australian cinematic post-diaspora. This violence could potentially be interpreted as yet another filmic materialisation of hybridity in the sense of Dr. Miller's coming to terms with and juxtaposition of both Hollywood's propensity for violence on screen and Australia's (legalised) road culture violence.

But even if the landscape is not invested with the virtues of essential Australianness, and the words are spoken with only some sort of future world accent, there are more moments of privileged recognition available [in Mad Max II ] than in the original Mad Max. The character of the narrative, perhaps the genre, and certainly the hero or heroes, are all more Australian. (Dermody & Jacka, 1988a:176)

It has already been discussed how the characterisation is simultaneously Australian while also relating to Hollywood models. But if Dermody & Jacka were to be right about the landscape, it would only be in accordance with what kind of audience - either local or international - is being considered. It is true that the roads and deserts of the Mad Max trilogy could potentially be located in Arizona or in the badlands of anywhere but there are clear markers in each film which remind constantly that Dr. George Miller's vision of the post-apocalyptic future is primarily set in Australia while simultaneoulsy displaying the typically-Hollywoodian characteristics of filmic universality.

Instead of filming anonymous skycrapers and buildings, Dr. Miller has deliberately chosen to include internationally-known geographical icons such as the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in his representation of the post-apocalyptic devastated Western city in the third sequel. The long stretches of road, while seemingly unspecific to international audiences would be a plainly familiar sight for domestic audiences, reminding of Australia's "tyranny of distance" - the need to travel for excessively long hours and long distances in order to go places. John Fiske et al. (1987:120) seem to have a similar view:

[T]he Mad Max movies, despite their international appeal, are quintessentially Australian. The vastness of the continent, its huge distances within itself and from the rest of the Western world, produce a sense that no Australian is complete until he or she has experienced them. [...] Travel connects us with our history in addition to giving us a metaphor for the future.

And the blandness and harshness of the desert in the second and third parts while appearing to be universal might be strangely familiar to the local viewers in its reminiscence of John Heyer's The Back of Beyond (1954), Graeme Clifford's Burke and Wills (1985) or Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981) for instance.

It should also be noted that it is not necessarily the landscape in isolation but rather what is placed or positioned within and against it which conveys a sense of "Australianness". For example, the desert of Stephen Elliott's The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994) might not be particularly Australian for international audiences until motivated by certain local(ised) markers such as specific characters or towns (exception made for some viewers who might already be familiar with images of Alice Springs as expressed in Neville Shute's A Town Like Alice, both in print and on film). For the Mad Max trilogy, the accents are conspicuously clear enough to be understood as Australian, leaving very little leeway for their interpretation as "future world", as suggested by Dermody & Jacka (1988a) earlier. Also important is the iconic presence of certain key characters which manage to "Australianise" the context of the trilogy although it might not necessarily be interpreted as such by an international gaze unfamiliar with "Australianness". Hence, Mel Gibson, Steve Bisley, Bruce Spence (with his hyperbolic gangling stance perfected in Tim Burstall's Stork (1971), according to Dermody & Jacka (1988a:174)), Emil Minty as The Feral Kid (whose boomerang might possibly be a reference to the Aboriginal presence within Australian culture), Angry Anderson (Australia's own "bad boy" of rock'n'roll), Max's blue cattle dog (and the can of Bonza dog food) are all familiar sights in relation to Australian film and popular culture.

By extension to the terms utilised here, it would seem that the Mad Max trilogy also constitutes one of the best illustrations of the "messiness" of Australian cinema. Their ability to reach audiences both nationally and internationally demonstrates how cinematic hybridity is in a sense a valid formula for commercial success. But more importantly, these films provide a clearer picture of how such hybridity is materialised and how, within this particular writing context, they energise the category of Australian cinematic post-diaspora.

So, the examination of certain Australian films, from the cinematic post-diaspora perspective, would seem to suggest that - to recontextualise a comment from Ien Ang (1994:16) - a recognition of the productivity of the cinematic third space of hybridity enables a coming to terms with the idea that the 'context of "where you're at" always informs and articulates the meaning of "where you're from" '. This is indeed very pertinent to Australian cinema in the sense that, as has been demonstrated, while local stories, myths and visons of "here" are often told or "sung"/celebrated filmically according to the languages of "there" - of cinematic homelands - there are instantaneously processes of appropriation and transformation which occur. What is traditionally considered as "belonging" to the homeland is quite deliberately hybridised or indigenised, in this instance "Australianised", to satisfy exigencies of "here". And this consequently justifies the cinematic identity of Australian films as being both plural and partial, hence the ability of Australian cinema in general to speak simultaneously to domestic and international audiences alike with a minimum of potential aberrant decoding on both sides.

The principles identified with regards to post-diasporic identity suggest that, according to Daniel Boyarin & Jonathan Boyarin (1993:721), cultures

are not preserved by being protected from "mixing" but probably can only continue to exist as a product of such mixing. Cultures, as well as identities, are constantly being remade.

This is exactly what an Australian cinematic post-diaspora is inclined on showing: the evolution of Australian cinema and its international recognition have in the past been the result of "mixing", of cinematic hybridity, of integrating and re-contextualising the foreign into the local. And this process of "constant remaking" seems to be the approach still favoured by Australian filmmakers in the 90s, as illustrated by the Australian films present at the 1996 Cannes Festival for instance, either in an official event or in the Marché section:

Megan Simpson Huberman's Dating the Enemy, Richard Franklin's Brilliant Lies, Nick Parsons's Dead Heart, Clara Law's Floating Life, Lawrence Johnson's Life, Emma-Kate Crogan's Love and Other Catastrophes, Shirley Barrett's Love Serenade, Paul Cox's Lust and Revenge, Nadia Tass's Mr. Reliable, Rolf de Heer's The Quiet Room, Scott Hicks's Shine, John Hillcoat's To Have and To Hold, Geoffrey Bennett's Turning April, John Tatoulis's Zone 39, Gillian Armstrong's Not Fourteen Again, John Hughes's What I Have Written, Frank Howson's Flynn, Jerzy Domaradzki's Lilian's Story.

> Conclusion


New: 16 December, 1996 | Now: 29 April, 2015