Not Australian Enough?

Filed in Archive, Blog by on July 20, 2013 0 Comments


Can you recall when Australian movies were criticised for not being “Australian” enough? Or “too commercial”? Not Quite Hollywood is an engaging 2008 documentary about Australian films. It tells the story of an industry’s improvised beginnings, its gropings for national identity, and the positioning of Australian films in today’s global marketplace.

Not Quite Hollywood confirms Jacki Weaver once did fine full-frontal nudity, and also reminded me how many critics bagged Mad Max when it was released in 1979. Which led me to dig up a few quotes. For example, according to Wikipedia, critic Phillip Adams said Mad Max had “all the emotional uplift of Mein Kampf” and would be “a special favourite of rapists, sadists, child murderers, and incipient [Charles] Mansons.” What a wowser! How narrow-minded and holier-than-thou his comments seem now.

The first time I saw Mad Max at a cinema, everyone around me left with broad grins, talking excitedly that Australians had finally made a movie that could match it with Hollywood. The stunts were breathtaking, the ideas were original, and Mel Gibson was indeed mad but cool in the badlands between Melbourne and Geelong.

Until Mad Max arrived, Australian films of the 1970s were typically polarised between tasteful period dramas like My Brilliant Career, The Getting of Wisdom, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and crowd-pleasing ocker comedies featuring the likes of Bazza McKenzie and Alvin Purple. Entertaining as they all were, it was hard to imagine any of “our” stars creating a buzz on the red carpet at the Oscars.

Not long after Mad Max came out, I saw an Australian movie on TV called Patrick. It had been released in 1978, but I’d missed Patrick at the cinema. The story was about a comatose yet wide-eyed man named Patrick who developed telekinetic powers – actually drafted before Stephen King published Carrie, who had similar powers, in 1974. Patrick was original, bizarre (with Sir Robert Helpmann playing a mad doctor eating dissected frogs), suspenseful, surprising and funny. The setting was a grand old nineteenth-century house in Acland Street, St Kilda, but could easily have been a house located in Europe or America. The style of story was in the vein of Hitchcock. The original movie holds up well today, and is currently in the process of being re-made.

Patrick was sold around the world, subtitled into many languages, even parodied in Italy. Critics referred to it, somewhat patronisingly, as a “genre” movie – that is, not a real “Australian” movie. The writer of Patrick, Everett De Roche, went on to dream up many more genre movies, including Snapshot (Sigrid Thornton’s first starring role), the cult classic Razorback, Roadgames (starring Jamie Lee Curtis), Harlequin (won Best Screenplay in international film awards), Long Weekend (recently re-made, starring Claudia Karvan), Storm Warning, and Nine Miles Down.

In May 2009 I met Everett DeRoche after he read my second novel Making Noises, which is set in Sydney’s music industry. Everett was then 62 and had lived in Australia since he’d left his home town of San Diego, California, in 1968 in search of surf Down Under.

With our shared interest in waves and his wicked sense of humour, Everett and I hit it off. In July 2009 he took out an option on the film rights to Making Noises. Part of the deal was that we work together on the screenplay – a comedic drama, not a thriller – with Everett in the mentoring role and me as apprentice.

In early 2011, Everett had a serious health scare, so script editor Tim Richards helped me fix up the eighth draft. A read-through by young professional actors of the screenplay’s ninth draft was held at Chapel Off Chapel Theatre, Melbourne, in June 2011. A prominent film agent, Daniel Scharf, this month (Feb 2012) picked up the Making Noises screenplay and is currently pitching it to film production companies.

When I revisited the documentary Not Quite Hollywood in the wake of finishing the Making Noises screenplay, what jumped out at me were the early criticisms of Everett DeRoche’s films for being “too commercial” and “not Australian enough”. How insecure and narrow such comments seem now. Yes, we have many film pioneers who should be thanked and not judged by current attitudes, but the industry must have been trying so hard in the 70s and 80s to assert our national identity that a local writer who didn’t wear his Australianness on his sleeve was really “not our sort of chap”.

These criticisms led me to reflect on the assumptions Everett and I had while working on our screenplay. We wrote a film set in Australia but aimed for genuine universal appeal. In this multi-platform era it’s hard to imagine Australian feature film writers not assuming this aim. There was also no question the film had to be commercially viable in its own right because we suspected the content would not endear itself to government funding bodies. In other words, we were aware Making Noises might be too much about entertainment and not arty or issues-laden enough to attract state funding. So we financed the writing of the screenplay ourselves.

Not Quite Hollywood also made me wonder why AACTA (the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts – formerly the AFI, Australian Film Institute) has not yet given Everett a lifetime achievement award. Especially when the host of Not Quite Hollywood, an American master of the genre movie, Quentin Tarantino, raves about no fewer than six of DeRoche’s films – with excerpts of each and comments from Everett – despite having to cram a history of Australian film into two hours. Tarantino says he regularly watched DeRoche’s movies while growing up on the other side of the world. And – get this – he praises DeRoche’s distinctly Australian take on the genre film. How ironic.

I guess early criticisms stick to a writer’s reputation like poo to a shoe. But maybe it’s time AACTA took another long, hard look at what Everett DeRoche has contributed to the Australian film industry across more than four decades of screenwriting.

The Raymond Longford Lifetime Achievement Award comes to mind.


(Originally published in February 2012, then reloaded in July 2013 to this website.)

(Visited 102 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.