The Hybridity of Filmmaking in Australian National Cinema: Formulating a Cinematic Post-diaspora .
Honours Dissertation, Communication Studies, School of Humanities, 1996
International networking, cross-referentiality and inter-textuality have always been vital to the process of adaptation of national cinemas to an everchanging cinemascape inclined towards globalisation. The latter is characterised by the extreme mobility - physically and conceptually - of filmmaking which seems almost naturally to undergo processes of displacement and dispersal in relation to national cinematic boundaries. As a consequence, national cinemas inevitably diverge into hybridity. They combine or amalgamate the foreign with the local, the international with the domestic. Yet, displacement and hybridisation within national cinemas should be acknowledged as occurring in parallel - if not complementary - terms to attempts at maintaining some form of localised homogeneous cinematic form and practice. To borrow a phrase from Stuart Hall (1990:227), difference persists - in and alongside continuity.
It should be noted that there is no precise or strict definition of "national cinema". It is an open, malleable concept which is variously defined, analysed and criticised. It finds its currency according to discourses determined and regulated by the specific contexts of writing such as economic analysis, film industry journalism, policy-making enquiry or academic criticism. According to Tom O'Regan (1996:1) for example,
[a] national cinema is made of the films and film production industry of particular nations. National cinemas involve relations between, on the one hand, the national film texts and the national and international film industries and, on the other hand, their various social, political and cultural contexts. These supply a means of differentiating cinema product in domestic and international circulation.[...] National cinemas also partake of a broader 'conversation' with Hollywood and other national cinemas.
Stephen Crofts (1993:50), on the other hand, is more specific in his identification of seven varieties of "national cinema" as licensed by the political, economic and cultural régimes of different nation-states:
1) cinemas which differ from Hollywood, but do not compete directly, by targeting a distinct, specialist market sector;
2) those which differ, do not compete directly but do directly critique Hollywood;
3) European and Third World entertainment cinemas which struggle against Hollywood with limited or no success;
4) cinemas which ignore Hollywood, an accomplishment managed by a few;
5) anglophone cinemas which try to beat Hollywood at its own game;
6) cinemas which work within a wholly state-controlled and often state-subsidized industry;
7) regional or national cinemas whose culture and/or language take their distance from the nation-states which enclose them.
My use of the term "national cinema" is predominantly oriented towards the fifth variety although with a certain margin of overlapping in terms of occasional excursions into the first, second and third varieties as well. For his part, Crofts (1993:50) admits that these categories are highly permeable since individual films from different groups do cross-breed. Furthermore, it is necessary to supplement Crofts's Hollywood-centric approach with O'Regan's (1996) acknowledgement that national cinemas also negotiate with each other and with forms of cinema other than the Hollywood apparatus.
What might be the connections between the concept of diaspora and films/national cinemas, apart from each being constitutionally hybrid, transnational and locally situated? For a start, William Safran (1991:94) writes that '[t]he problem of diaspora/host country/homeland relationships - and indeed the very definition of diaspora - goes beyond the purely ethnic, genetic and emotional'. He suggests that devout Roman Catholics living in largely Protestant countries might see themselves as 'living in a religious diaspora and look to Rome as their spiritual homeland' (1991:94); or else, '[f]or French and Italian Stalinists, the "hieratic" homeland was, for many years, Moscow, and they may have seen themselves as living in an ideological diaspora' (1991:94). Hence, all of this seems to be pointing at the conceptual fluidity of diaspora which can potentially offer a wide range of applications to various forms of relationship in different areas of investigation, other than those traditionally pertinent to ethnic groups alone. To quote Safran (1991:95):
The complex and flexible positioning of ethnic diasporas between host countries and homelands thus constitutes a prototype for various sets of coordinates that social units and individuals use for defining, centering, and (if necessary) "delocalizing" their activities and identities, and that social scientists may use in analyzing the relationship between "insiders" and "outsiders" and between state and society. [emphasis added]
The prototype of diaspora as understood and applied to displaced subjects in accordance with various orientations and agendas of postcolonial writings, seems to have the propensity of becoming a valid model to establish an analogue (or maybe even engage in a symbiosis) with the operative dynamics of a national cinema. By virtue of its central defining characteristics, the prototype of diaspora can become quite relevant in application to, and in the assessment of, films which although "located" within the structure or "enclosed" by the parameters of a national cinema can be said to have "crossed" national and cinematic boundaries in one way or another, to have been displaced from some form of cinematic homeland "located" elsewhere.
Cinematic diaspora and diasporic cinema
Jay: "I was born here. I've always been Ugandan first, Indian second. I've been called a boot-licker and a traitor by my fellow Indians. Where should I go? Okelo, this is my home!"
Okelo: "Not anymore Jay. Africa is for Africans, black Africans."
The above extract from Mira Nair's Mississippi Masala (1991) could indeed be considered as an epitome of the kind of issues dealt with by what is sometimes called "diasporic cinema". An Indian lawyer born and raised in Uganda, Jay (Roshan Seth), and his family, are forced to leave as a result of General Idi Amin's decision to expel the Asian population from the country in 1972. Parallel to the themes of (lost) homeland and displacement, Mira Nair also looks at diasporic hybridity by the intermediary of Jay's daughter, Mina (Sarita Choudhury). Indian by virtue of ancestry, she seems to have grown up "Americanised" while nurturing distant memories of Uganda/Africa as "home". Her relationship with Demetrius (Denzel Washington) - a black American - in Greenwood, Mississippi enhances further the complexity of the situation. The film could eventually be summarised as constituting an exploration of the relationship between at least three "forms" of diaspora: one which constantly wants to return "home" - Jay; one which has lost connection with the homeland of origin - Demetrius; and one which is "in progress" within an ambivalent space of hybridity - Mina.
Likewise, Stephen Frears's Sammie and Rosie Get Laid (1987) can be interpreted as a filmic translation of the discursivising of hybridity in relation to diasporic communities. In that sense, it is thematically similar to the writings of Salman Rushdie in Imaginary Homelands (1991), especially when he ponders about the predicaments of the post-colonial Indian community established in England. The film displays and discusses the various dynamics between "old" and "new", "self" and "other" as well as the hybrid formations which inevitably emerge amidst such binaries. And this kind of filmic treatment of diasporas finds additional support in debates within various circles of academia and film criticism. Such is the case when Stuart Hall, Homi Bhabha and Paul Gilroy are brought together by Sight and Sound, for instance, to discuss sexuality, race and politics in relation to the black community in England and in response to Isaac Julien's Young Soul Rebels (1991).
About Mississippi Masala, Erika Andersen (Film Quarterly, 1993:23) writes that it
offers fresh images of people previously ignored, denigrated, or stereotyped by Hollywood. The film features people of colour not as subordinates to white dominant culture but as central figures. European-American characters are only peripheral, and the leading characters are either Indian, African or African-American.
The above observation could indeed be applied to other typical examples of diasporic cinema such as Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl (1966), Stephen Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (1992), Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors (1994) and Clara Law's Floating Life (1996). What these films have in common is the insight they provide into the predicaments and tribulations of transnational, diasporic peoples through the representation of their everyday negotiations between the ways of some form or idea of original homeland and the ways of the contemporary, "adopted" country of residence. They are films about, and often made by, the migrant or "overseas" Indian, African, Chinese or Jew. Diasporic cinema occupies a marginal position within the Western-oriented cinemascape, always already (about the) "Other", as inferred by Stuart Hall (1990:234) for instance, when he writes about the 'complex relationship of young black British filmmakers with the "avant-gardes" of European and American filmmaking'.
On the other hand, Chris Noonan's blockbuster Babe (1995), by virtue of its problematic, ambiguous "Australian" identity - I shall elaborate on this later - constitutes an interesting site of cinematic displacement and, as such, has exercised a considerable influence upon the focus of this thesis. For example, the critics and editors of Cinema Papers ('Films of the Year', Feb.1996:2) have more or less unanimously chosen it as the best Australian feature of 1995, heading a list which includes Richard Franklin's Hotel Sorrento, Gerard Lee's All Men Are Liars and Geoffrey Wright's Metal Skin amongst others. But to what extent can Babe be considered as "Australian" as these latter films? Babe opens for me a discursive space in which to explore the possibility of an additional paradigm for negotiating cinematic identity, inevitably questioning in the process the identity of other "Australian" films too and ultimately leading to a re-assessment of Australian national cinema. I derive this particular paradigm from within theories pertaining to ethnic diasporas so that, through its application to particular films, one of the aims of this thesis is to establish the basic principles through which a cinematic diaspora can be activated.
By juxtaposing Mississippi Masala and Babe, I want to exclude any semantic confusion. The formulation of a cinematic diaspora, on the one hand, and "diasporic cinema", on the other hand, need to be differentiated. The latter category, as we have seen, acquires its magnitude in relation to films made about the subjects of ethnic diasporas - 'where a mundane cinema meets the "Others in its midst" ' (O'Regan, 1996:124). To put it succintly, diasporic cinema is about diasporic people(s) while a cinematic diaspora intends to focus purely on the practices of filmmaking and cinema as its principal object of scrutiny.
Theorising a cinematic diaspora
'[D]iaspora literally refers to the dispersal - the scattering of a people' (Nelson, 1992:ix): the term is commonly used in reference to various categories of people who have had to leave their original homelands, by their own volition or by compulsion, and settle elsewhere, adopting (perhaps temporarily) another land or country as home until the possibility of return under better circumstances. Although originally equated with the dispersal of the Jews, the term is contemporarily used as a marker for the identity of any subject who has been displaced transnationally in one way or another. Safran (1991:83) for example stretches the semantic scope of diaspora to include 'expatriates, expellees, political refugees, alien residents, immigrants and ethnic and racial minorities'.
The diasporic experience of a people is generally adumbrated by three main characteristics - which is roughly a reductive summary, a distillation of those most commonly mentioned or listed in various theorisations of diaspora (see for example Safran, 1991; Nelson, 1992; Mishra, 1992; Ang, 1994; and Clifford, 1994):
- displacement and dispersal from some form of (specific) original centre towards peripheral locations, resulting to the "temporary" adoption of a "host" country of residence;
- maintaining a relationship with the homeland by means of practices which translate the visions, memories, imagination of the homeland;
- possibility of an eventual physical return to the homeland of origin.
Films - and, often by extension, their directors - are considered here as the "dispersed subjects" which make up a cinematic diaspora and establish its parameters. The original homeland should, in this context, be envisaged in cinematic terms as Hollywood mainstream cinema, (European) Art cinema or Internationalised cinema - I shall elaborate on these elsewhere. All are potential cinematic homelands with which certain films can be associated or referred to by virtue of their generic/stylistic inclinations and logistic/production values such as personnel, finance, distribution and so on. On the other hand, the "adopted" country of residence should be conceived as the national cinema within which the film was made and wherein its director might usually be based, hence as an "adopted" national cinema/country of practice. The act of displacement and dispersal from the original homeland to the "adopted" country of residence can be said to occur when, for example, European Art cinema-style films or Hollywood-style films are made elsewhere than in Europe or Hollywood where they "ideally" belong (in terms of where such styles of filmmaking are traditionally said to have originated and where they are most commonly and currently being perpetuated).
James Clifford (1994:305) summarises as follows the main features of diaspora as originally established by Safran (1991): 'history of dispersal, myth/memories of the homeland, alienation in the host (bad host?) country, desire for eventual return, ongoing support of the homeland, a collective identity importantly defined by this relationship'. Based on these features, it should be possible to institute the principal characteristics of a cinematic diaspora.
'A history of dispersal' could find some sort of equivalence in the set of films made according to the characteristic style of a particular homeland in the history of the "adopted" national cinema/country of practice. The 'myths/memories of the homeland' could be conceptualised as a particular film's explicit intra- and extra-textual dependencies upon, or at least influences derived from, the cinematic homeland. Intra- and extra-textual markers are considered as referring respectively to stories, narratives, genres, actors and financing and distribution, for example. Such markers, by virtue of their clear visibility within and around the film, suggest a categorical affiliation to the cinematic homeland as well as a denial of the local or "adopted" national cinema/country of practice. By extension, they also provide some indication of where the director's influences or allegiances are located, as a way of maintaining a relationship with the cinematic homeland of origin.
'Alienation in the host (bad host?) country' could be translated into the negative criticism, very often in the shape of arguments about cultural imperialism for example, which is expressed to delineate a particular film as "belonging" to a specific cinematic homeland and to disconnect it from the local politico-filmic agenda of the "adopted" national cinema/country of practice. Relevant examples within the Australian context would be Richard Franklin's Roadgames (1981), Colin Eggleston's Cassandra (1987) and Phillip Noyce's Dead Calm (1989). The 'desire for eventual return' can then be translated into a desire of going ("back") to the homeland of origin to keep on making films of(/about) the homeland. And this desire is literally, physically effected when directors and actors, "belonging" a priori to an "adopted" national cinema/country of practice - like Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi, Judy Davis or Mel Gibson - go to Hollywood or to Europe for example to make films generically and stylistically similar to those which they have been making locally. And 'ongoing support of the homeland' can be transcribed as the involvement of the cinematic homeland - financial, creative or logistic - in the "adopted" national cinema/country of practice, but also as the encouragement to its "displaced" directors, expressed through invitations or offers to work on projects in the homeland. Such is the case for Simon Wincer who was offered by American studios the direction of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991), Free Willy (1993) and Lightning Jack (1994) amongst others; or Phillip Noyce who was given the responsibility to put on film Tom Clancy's bestseller novels Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. 'Support' can additionally be seen in the official recognition of "dispersed" films and directors at the Festival venues of the cinematic homeland such as the American Academy Awards, the Italian Venice Film Festival, the German Berlin Film Festival or the French Cannes Festival for instance.
The act of displacement - in many ways the essential and defining characteristic of diasporas - should not be seen as the physical "exodus" of any form of filmmaking from an original cinematic homeland towards other cinematic apparatuses. Displacement in this context happens filmically, onto (and outside) the screen: the act should be conceived of in purely metaphoric terms rather than in the physical terms inherent to ethnic diasporas.
I should open a parenthesis here to refer to Homi Bhabha's (1990) explanation of the use of migration as a metaphor in fictional writing, as illustrated by Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988). His explanation is related to and clarifies, by extrapolation, my understanding and usage of "metaphoric" in relation to the act of displacement within a cinematic diaspora.
To think of migration as metaphor suggests that the very language of the novel, its form and rhetoric, must be open to meanings that are ambivalent, doubling and dissembling. Metaphor produces hybrid realities by yoking together unlikely traditions of thought [my emphasis]. The Satanic Verses is, in this sense structured around the metaphor of migrancy. The importance of thinking migration as literary metaphor leads us back to the great social offence of the novel (the way it has been read and interpreted, literally, as a Satanic challenge to the authority of Islam), but also permits us to see how it is the form of the novel has been profoundly misunderstood and has proved to be politically explosive - precisely because the novel is about metaphor. (Bhabha, 1990:212)
And the present thesis is, in many ways, also structured around the metaphor of migrancy, around the process of thinking migration and displacement as cinematic metaphor, very much similar to Rushdie's literary metaphor. Hence, the exploration of a cinematic diaspora might not be as "politically explosive" as The Satanic Verses, but Bhabha's explanation should have hopefully emphasised the importance of not trying to approach it literally.
Principles of analogy
To reinforce further the metaphoric dimension of my project - the utilisation of ethnic diaspora as a prototype or model to formulate a cinematic diaspora - I would like to refer to the discussion of Mary Hesse (1963) on the use of models and analogies in the process of scientific theorisation. Her discussion bears the influence of the views of English physicist N.R. Campbell (1920:129) who wrote that
analogies are not "aids" to the establishment of theories; they are an utterly essential part of theories, without which theories would be completely valueless and unworthy of the name. It is often suggested that the analogy leads to the formulation of the theory, but that once the theory is formulated the analogy has served its purpose and may be removed or forgotten. Such a suggestion is absolutely false and perniciously misleading.
According to Hesse (1963:64), for any system, whether buildable, picturable or imaginable, a model is what allows an analogy 'to exist between two objects in virtue of their common properties'. In her discussion of the use of a collection of billiard balls in random motion as a model which eventually explicates the dynamic theory of gases, she suggests that there are basically three forms of analogy possible (1963:9). In saying that gas molecules are analogous to billiard balls, there are some properties of billiard balls which are not found in molecules, properties which constitute the negative analogy of the model: gas molecules are obviously not hard/shiny, red/white like billiard balls. 'Motion and impact, on the other hand, are just the properties of billiard balls that we want to ascribe to molecules in the model, and these we can call the positive analogy ' (Hesse, 1963:9). However, 'there will generally be some properties of the model about which we do not yet know whether they are positive or negative analogies' (Hesse, 1963:9) and these constitute the neutral analogy. Such properties allow for new predictions about the expected behaviour of gases to be made. Thus, according to Hesse (1963:11), the model of billiard balls 'is not a more or less imperfect copy, it is the way we are imagining the phenomena themselves'.
[W]e are only considering the known positive analogy, and the (probably open) class of properties about which it is not yet known whether they are positive or negative analogies. When we consider a theory based on a model as an explanation for a set phenomena, we are considering the positive and neutral analogies, not the negative analogy, which we already know we can discard. (Hesse, 1963:11)
Hesse also implies that this perspective is routine in, and fundamental to, scientific researching.
So, to return to the issue of cinematic diaspora, the model or prototype of diaspora allows for an analogy to exist between displaced and diasporic peoples on the one hand, and films and national cinemas on the other hand, by virtue of shared properties. The positive analogy is made up of the attributes of diasporic peoples which are meant to be ascribed to films and national cinemas: the act of displacement, the settlement in an "adopted" country of residence and the possibility of return to some form of homeland of origin. The negative analogy is constituted here by the properties of diasporic peoples which are not found in films: historical circumstances of displacement such as motivations of colonial expansion of the British Empire in the case of the Indian or African diaspora, experiences of oppression, struggle and dispossession, and self-determination/resignation in relation to the reasons or causes of displacement. The neutral analogy - or what could be called "interrogative analogy" - is constituted by what is not yet known either as positive or negative. It encompasses the properties of hybridity within diasporas, properties which can consequently be applied to films and national cinemas.
Hybridised identities: from diaspora to post-diaspora
Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact [...], we should think, instead, of identity as a 'production', which is never complete, always in process. (Hall, 1990:222)
This comment from Stuart Hall can be taken as a warning about the problem which arises from a normative universalisation of the diasporic identity in, for example, the work of William Safran (1991). The latter has basically created an ideal structure, a protodiaspora to fit all possible diasporas based more or less uniquely on the central model and master narrative of the Jewish diaspora for reasons of "seniority". My own model of cinematic diaspora - which is an extrapolation of William Safran's work - highlights yet again the problematic nature of any attempt at universalisation. To consider a diaspora only in terms of myths of the homeland and of the cruciality of physical return or homecoming constitutes a denial of the possibility of hybridity, of hybridised identities.
'If identity does not proceed, in a straight, unbroken line, from some fixed origin [as Safran (1991) seems to be implying], how are we to understand its formation?' (Hall, 1990:226). It would be plausible then to say that however strong the imagination of the original homeland might be, the diaspora is likely to undergo some form of transformation because the diasporic experience within the "adopted" country of residence simply does not occur in a socio-cultural vacuum. Hence, Stuart Hall (1990:235) does not consider the diaspora as referring to scattered tribes whose identity can only be secured in relation to some sacred homeland to which they must at all costs return.
The diaspora experience [...] is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of 'identity' which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity. Diaspora identities are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference. (Hall, 1990:235)
Furthermore, it is additionally important to take into account Homi Bhabha's (1990:211) reminder that
the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which a third emerges, rather hybridity [...] is the "third space" which enables other positions to emerge. This third space displaces the histories that constitute it, and set up new structures of authority.
There is obviously a need for a more pluralised, relativised definition of diaspora. This would imply a reconfiguration of the term which aims principally at the recognition of heterogeneity, hybridity, diversity and transformation as valid components of the diasporic experience. A hybridised identity for the diasporic subject could be said to emerge from his or her process of negotiation between identification with the homeland of origin and adaptation to the "adopted" country of residence. From the latter perspective, memories, vision and the imagination which sustain the ties, the relationship with the original homeland are preserved except in a "modified" version - they are readapted to the actuality of the "adopted" country of residence. This process of readaptation insinuates a principle of double-consciousness whereby the diasporic subject relates and lives according to the practices of the original homeland as well as to those of the "adopted" country simultaneously (and this situation is particularly relevant to the descendants of first diasporas, generations away from their ancestors who originally left the homeland).
The term "double-consciousness" is borrowed from Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic (1993). While acknowledging its theoretical origins in the work of W.E.B. Dubois, Gilroy (1993:4) uses the term in his analysis of the 'doubleness and cultural intermixture that distinguish the experience of black Britons in contemporary Europe'. For Gilroy (1993:1), '[s]triving to be both European and black requires some specific forms of double-consciousness' because 'the contemporary black English [...] like all blacks in the West, stand between (at least) two great cultural assemblages, both of which have mutated through the course of the modern world that formed them and assumed new configurations'.
Hence, the diaspora should be re-considered as a site of hybridity because its specificities emerge from the fluctuating tension between the original homeland and the "adopted" country of residence or, in other words, from the wavering elasticity which connects the two positions. The diasporic subject's identity is in turn re-constructed by the intermediary of a constant negotiation between two dominant discourses: of "here" and of "there". The resulting unstable relationship with the original homeland suggests that the diaspora's return should consequently be envisaged only in very symbolic terms because the imagination of it is progressively fractured, although not totally obliterated in the processes of readaptation.
Since I have already used the term "diaspora" mostly in relation to theories which insist on homecoming - such as Safran's (1991) - consequent references to diaspora based on Stuart Hall's (1990) perspective, for example, might create some confusion. In these circumstances, it would be best to employ another terminology which, although different, would still acknowledge the hybridity factor within the diasporic experience. "Post-diaspora" should serve the purpose intended here, as derived from its application by Salman Rushdie (1991:15) to the British-Indian community in England:
We are Hindus who have crossed the black water; we are Muslims who eat pork. And as a result [...] we are now partly of the West. Our identity is at once plural and partial . [my emphasis]
The prefix "post" suggests the transition to a reconfigured state of diaspora as a result of the transformation required to the increasing insufficiency of its previous configuration. What is especially interesting is that this process of transition and transformation does not occur in radical terms since it does not ignore and still incorporates the characteristics of the diaspora's previous state.
Thus, the transition from diasporic to post-diasporic identity can be positioned in Homi Bhabha's (1990) "third space" and validated by the principle of double-consciousness. Such an identity is conceived as a hybrid socio-cultural formation which negotiates and oscillates, stretches and unstretches between what is "here" and remembering "there". Following the same logic, cinematic identity can be viewed as - to borrow a phrase from Stuart Hall (1990:225) - a matter of "becoming" as well as of "being". Within the terms of a cinematic post-diaspora, films such as Peter Faiman's Crocodile Dundee (1986), Esben Storm's Deadly (1992) and John Dingwall's The Custodian (1993), for instance, are considered as being invariably endowed with the property of double-consciousness. This implies that their identities negotiate between attempts at the totalisation, at the uniformity of "here" - practices and markers, unambiguous filmic myths of the "adopted" national cinema/country of practice - and the distinctive differences of "there" - practices and markers, myths of the cinematic homeland. Such films should eventually be conceived of as hybrids because they tend to display elements of the "adopted" national cinema/country of practice while nurturing simultaneously affinities with a cinematic homeland, although in varying proportions. The "third space" of oscillation is energised through the material, filmic display of the properties of double-consciousness: intra- and extra-textual negotiation between myths of "here" and myths of "there".
It is quite important to retain a certain focus on or a grasp of the different perspectives to the theme of hybridity which already exist. These have indeed been so influential to my idea of a cinematic post-diaspora that such an approach is most likely to display fairly recognisable traits of "kinship", or at least show links of "parentage", to them. Hence, chapter two will be plotting a map of the available perpectives to the theme of hybridity. It will use for its main coordinates the notions of feralness, positive unoriginality and cultural transfers as oriented by a defining characteristic of Australian cinema (and culture): its antipodality.
The next step is to formulate in chapter three an Australian cinematic diaspora in the process of examining Australian cinema and Australian films in terms of the basic principles and operative dynamics of cinematic diaspora which I have identified and established. I shall be exploring different ways of understanding filmic "Australianness" before providing a brief explanation of what I describe as cinematic homelands. Then, I shall proceed to demonstrate how Australian films create a cinematic third space in which to establish an Australian cinematic diaspora. In chapter four, I shall discuss the necessary transition to post-diaspora, by virtue of hybrid filmmaking practices which inevitably produce hybridised versions of "Australianness".
The articulation of an Australian cinematic post-diaspora is conceived as being located somewhere in the area of overlap between Hollywood mainstream cinema, (European) Art cinema, Internationalised cinema and Australian cinema. As such, it should allow for a more credible assessment of certain films which, while being precisely in that overlapping area, might still sometimes be assessed unproblematically according to either of these categories of cinema without mention of cross-overs or of hybridity. Robert Sklar (1993:501) for example seems to make that mistake when he writes that '[a]fter its intense moment of international recognition, Australian cinema lost through the defection of its leading filmmakers its clear delineation as a national cinema' [my emphasis]. So, the main objective of an Australian cinematic post-diaspora is to address the hybridity of certain filmmaking practices within Australian cinema, hybridity which creates a cinematic third space of "in-betweenness", hence an "in-between" cinematic identity for certain films which might sometimes be treated in terms of a mere extension to national cinema parameters. Acknowledging "in-betweenness" is therefore one step towards alleviating what O'Regan (1996:4) identifies as '[t]he problem every national cinema analysis faces [which] is one of how to do justice to Australian cinema as a hybrid assemblage of diverse elements, statuses and films'.
1. The same trend of thought seems to be pursued by Thomas Elsaesser (1993:122), especially when he suggests that
each national cinema is both national and international, though in different areas of its sphere of influence. Nationally, it participates in the popular or literary culture at large (the New German cinema's predilection for filmed literature, the intellectual cult status of French film directors, the acceptance of Fellini, Antonioni or Francesco Rosi as "artists" and Italy's sacred monsters). Internationally, national cinemas have a generic function: a French, Swedish or Italian film set horizons of expectations for the general audience which are negative mirror images to that of a Western, a science fiction film or a horror movie, as essential a prerequisite for brand-name identity as the Hollywood generic classifications or star vehicles.
2. A national cinema is, in a sense, similar to Benedict Anderson's "imagined communities" which are 'to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined' (1983:15).
3. For further analysis and discussion of "national cinema", see Stephen Crofts, 'Reconceptualising National Cinema/s'. Quarterly Review of Film and Video, vol.14, no.3, 1993, pp.49-67. See also Andrew Higson, 'The Concept of National Cinema'. Screen, vol.30, no.4, 1989, pp.36-46. And Paul Willemen, (1994) 'The National'. In Looks and Frictions - Essays in Cultural Studies and Film Theory, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, pp.206-19.
4. See reviews of Mississippi Masala. Marie-Anne Guérin, Cahiers du Cinéma, no.448, Oct.1991, pp.67-8. Françoise Audé, Positif, no.369, Nov. 1991, p.45. Farrah Anwar, Sight and Sound, vol.1, issue 9, Jan.1992, p.50.
5. For example, see review of Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. Leonard Quart, Cinéaste, vol.xvi, no.3, 1988, pp.40-1.
6. Amy Taubin, 'Soul to Soul' and 'Threatening Pleasures'. Sight and Sound, vol.1, issue 4, Aug.1991, pp.14-9.
7. Once Were Warriors deals grosso modo with the sociocultural crisis within a Maori community, crisis resulting from the community's gradual alienation from both ancestral Maori culture and contemporary western New Zealand culture. In a certain way, it might be categorised as "indigenous filmmaking/cinema" in quite similar terms as Tracey Moffatt's beDevil (1993) and Nice Coloured Girls (1987) for example. O'Regan (1996:74-5) poses the question: 'Is there an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander [or Maori] cinema we can call an indigenous national cinema emerging from the spaces of non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal partnerships?' The Australian Film Commission seems to think that there is one considering that it 'sponsored a touring season of films in 1995 called Hidden Pictures promoting an indigenous cinema whose beginnings are located in collaborations between non-Aboriginal filmmakers and Aboriginal actors and individuals' (O'Regan, 1996:75).
But parallel to any debate around issues of "indigenous cinema", it seems plausible nevertheless to position an indigenous work such as Lee Tamahori's next to Stephen Frears or Mira Nair because, as James Clifford (1994:309) explains,
[d]ispersed tribal peoples, those who have been dispossessed of their lands or who must leave reduced reserves to find work, may claim diasporic identities. Inasmuch as their distinctive sense of themselves is oriented toward a lost or alienated home defined as aboriginal (and thus "outside" the surrounding nation-state), we can speak of a diasporic dimension of contemporary tribal life.
8. Along similar lines, Stuart Hall (1990:222) mentions the emergence of a new cinema of the Carribean which is
related to, but different from the vibrant film and other forms of visual representation of the Afro-Carribean (and Asian) 'blacks' of the diasporas of the West - the new post-colonial subjects. All these cultural practices and forms of representation have the black subject at their centre, putting the issue of cultural identity in question.
9. According to Variety (18-24 March, 1996), Babe's worldwide box-office cumulative after 32 weeks of release was $200,891,620. In The Bulletin, Andrew Urban (1996:42) estimated that Babe will end up grossing about $330 million through a combination of box-office revenue, video rentals, American pay TV, free-to-air TV and international TV sales. After sorting out costs/commissions and splitting up the net profit between the various investors, $145 million, spread over several years, should find its way to Australia.
10. The director may (or may not) be a natural citizen of the country in which the film was shot. What is more of significance to the process of theorising a cinematic diaspora is that cinematically and filmically, his or her orientations and influences lie elsewhere, usually as a result of predicaments and experiences of his or her initial formative years of filmmaking.
Such is the case of German filmmaker Wim Wenders for example, who, growing up in postwar Germany saturated with Hollywood films, never denied his fascination with American culture - which consequently influenced his own filmmaking - nor his debt to the American film, a debt which he often acknowledges literally on film such as in The American Friend (1977) and Kings of the Road (1976) . For more details on Wenders's early years, see Kathe Geist, (1988) The Cinema of Wim Wenders, UMI Research Press, Ann Harbor, London.
11. William Safran (1991:83) attributes to diasporic peoples the following general characteristics: (i) they, or their ancestors, have been dispersed from a specific original 'centre' to two or more 'peripheral', or foreign regions; (ii) they retain a collective memory, vision, or myth about their original homeland - its physical location, history, and achievements; (iii) they believe that they are not - and perhaps cannot be - fully accepted by their host society and therefore feel partly alienated and insulated from it; (iv) they regard their ancestral homeland as their true, ideal home and as the place to which they or their descendants would (or should) eventually return - when conditions are appropriate; (v) they believe that they should, collectively, be committed to the maintenance or restoration of their original homeland and to its safety and prosperity; (vi) they continue to relate, personally or vicariously, to that homeland in one way or another, and their ethnocommunal consciousness and solidarity are importantly defined by the existence of such a relationship.
12. It might be of significance to note that Stuart Hall's ideas are likely to bear the influence of his own experiences of displacement from the West Indies to the UK. And the same principle would apply to Ien Ang (from Indonesia to Holland and Australia), Vijay Mishra (from Fiji to Australia) or Salman Rushdie (from India to the U.K.) for example.
13. Another possibility of transformation for the diasporic subject is a total rejection of ties, of any form of relationship with the original homeland as a result of total assimilation within the "adopted" country of residence. Memories of the homeland of origin can be deliberately forgotten so that chances of a physical return are completely erased. This is often the case when the (national) identity of the "adopted" country of residence is particularly strong, more valuable and advantageous than identification with the original homeland. Ien Ang (1994:9) explains that
cultural assimilation is not only and not always an official policy imposed by host countries upon their non-native minorities; there is also among many members of minority groups themselves a certain desire to assimilate, a longing for fitting in rather than standing out, even though this desire is often at the same time contradicted by an incapability or refusal to adjust and adapt completely.
For example, many diasporic subjects in the USA might be more inclined to assimilate fully with the "American way of life", preferring ultimately to be called "Americans" rather than entertaining an ambiguous combinatory form of identity which includes a reference to the homeland of origin, hence emphasising their difference: Japanese-American, Korean-American or Cuban-American (such hyphenated identities are in fact post-diasporic because they acknowledge a negotiation between original homeland and "adopted" country of residence).
14. I would like to acknowledge the work of Vijay Devadas in terms of its influential role in the development and orientation of my project. His Honours thesis - (Re)Composing Indianness: Towards a (re)presentation of the Indian-Singaporean Post-Diaspora (1995), Murdoch University, Perth - suggested the need for a transition from diaspora to post-diaspora as a result of his observation of the problems emerging from the available theories of diaspora, especially in application to the Indian community in Singapore.
15. To quote Homi Bhabha (1994:1): ' "in-between" spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood - singular or communal - that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation [...]'.
HTML created: 9 December 1996
HTML author : Tom O'Regan
HTML last modified: 7th February 1997
Modified by: Jeremy Barth