Friday, April 15, 2011

Vegemite Western

There have been many funny, touching and cool Australian made films over the history of Aussie cinema. There was the man from out of the wastes, clad in leather, ready to put post-apocalyptic marauders to the gun - Mad Max, the ever iconic working class antics of 'The Castle', and the three drag queens and a bus that took the world by storm in Priscilla. I don't think any serious film lover could deny that there have been some diverse, original and brilliant Aussie films that have left their mark on cinema as a whole.

But as I pulled one of my favourite Aussie movies from my DVD collection and gave it a spin, I realized that there was one facet of Australia and Australian history that was being very under-used. The movie I watched was 'The Proposition'. This is an amazing film in alot of ways.

First of all, it brought the director, John Hillcoat, to the attention of the film industry at large. Hillcoat, after turning out The Proposition, went on to direct 'The Road', a movie based on the coveted Cormack McCarthy novel. Both of these films have left me eager to see what Hillcoat does next. I think he is one of the most talented Aussie directors working today.

Secondly, this film was the product of a script written by none other than the dark force of alternative Oz rock, Nick Cave. The script speaks in Caves artistic language. It's dark, disturbing and it's full of devoid and isolated characters, like much of Caves music. The script and story for The Proposition feels totally original, and uses a period of Australian history in a way that not many other films do.

The third aspect of the Proposition that is exemplary is the cinematography. The sparse, central Australian landscape was captured vividly by French cinematographer, Benoit Delhomme. This film looks epic, and the settings are represented on film so naturally. Delhomme puts you into colonial, rural Australia; blow fly's and all. This film looks and feels so sparse and dry, you could almost be fooled into thinking that it was set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

It's clear that there is alot to love about The Proposition. The performances from Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Emily Watson and John Hurt are amazing, and Guy Pearce as the stoic, barely speaking lead is done perfectly. He is dark, dirty and almost like some sociopathic prophet, riding across the desert, dispensing violence.

The thing that struck me the most during my most recent watch of this flick, is that the Australian western is a very under-used genre. I would go so far as to suggest that most foreign film goers, and probably some local ones, are unaware that the Aussie western genre even exists. This is, perhaps, because it barely does. The only true Aussie westerns that I can think of off the top of my head are The Proposition, Ned Kelly and it's remakes, The Man from Snowy River and Quigley Down Under (if you're being generous). This seems like a crime to me. Australia has this incredible landscape that translates so beautifully to film. We have a turbulent, violent history. It really was like the wild west during the early days of European colonization. We have folk lore and stories to draw on such as bush rangers and aboriginal Australian history. We have some of the most talented actors and film makers working today. Why on earth is the Aussie western or 'vegemite western' not a flourishing genre? It seems a crime to me. We have the landscape and history to tell some great stories right in our backyard. Why aren't we playing with them?

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