Miscellany: The Australian film industry and its context

The Australian film industry and its context

When was the last time you saw a good Australian film? When was the last time you saw a poor New Zealand film?

The different trajectories of the two industries reflect some fundamental changes in the arts in both countries. The Australian film industry is in the doldrums and hopes to be revived by making cheap facilities available to overseas producers filming global pap. The NZ industry has had one global box office monster – Lord of the Rings – and lots of quirky, distinctive films just like Australia used to produce.

The Australians didn’t realise that Hollywood was getting worried about out-sourcing to Canada and other places at precisely the moment Australian governments were investing millions in production facilities to persuade the US to outsource to here.

But part of the problem is also with the Federal Government which has no real interest in the arts beyond ensuring that none of the institutions it funds undermine its view of the world. Abetted by the radical right in the media they scoff at anything which might be considered subversive of conservative, commercial values.

Setting the agenda in this way for the arts does, of course, have its ironic side. For instance, the Feds’ epigones at State level try to follow it with often disastrous consequences. In Victoria the former Arts Shadow Minister managed to attack a 2003 Melbourne International Arts Festival performance – I Am Blood – because taxpayers’ money was being wasted on something which failed to meet family values. Now I Am Blood was not everybody’s cup of tea. A sort of theatrical version of a Hieronymus Bosch painting – it was fairly mild compared with the reality of the Thirty Years War or the depravity and cruelty of the Catholic Church during the various religious wars against Protestants, Muslims et al –  but graphic nevertheless. It was equally graphic, if fairly mild in many ways, when the Shadow Minister had to resign because he had allegedly destroyed various motor vehicles while returning from a long alcohol lunch recovering from the break-up of his gay relationship. While Miscellany tends to believe this is closer to real modern family values than those espoused by John and Janette, it was still an own goal of massive proportions.

On the other hand one has to admit that the Feds’ approach is very successful. While Miscellany was Visions of Australia Chair under a Labor Government the Arts Ministers (successively Bob McMullan and Michael Lee) never once interfered with any funding decision although Michael Lee was always nervous – sensibly for any Minister – about possible Senate Estimates questions. At the first meeting under the new Howard Government a funding decision about a G&L exhibition for Mardi Gras had to be withdrawn after a nervous public servant checked it out with the Minister’s and the PM’s office during a lunchtime break. It just wouldn’t have been approved.

But it’s not just conservative government – it’s also a broader cultural change. At the various points in the past 70 years when the Australian film industry has flourished it’s always been when it has reflected on Australian’s distinctive identity, including both the vulgar and intellectual elements as demonstrated by Muriel’s Wedding or any Paul Cox film.

…and that’s exactly what the NZ industry is doing right now.

For a great example of it don’t worry about Lord of the Rings. Hop off to In My Father’s Den at Palace Cinemas, the NZ film based on the wonderful Maurice Gee’s novel. In the film one of the characters explains away his English accent by saying it was inevitable – he just couldn’t cope any longer with being mistaken for an Australian.

Perhaps it’s really our distinctive identity we are losing and not just our distinctive film industry?

Where are the right wing films?
A couple of weeks ago Miscellany mentioned that the FT and the Australian were worried about all the left wing documentaries and books and plaintively asked where the right wing films are?

Well, they’re out there being funded by US taxpayers. The Weekly Spin – one of the online publications from the Centre for Media and Democracy – had a piece this week about the film Voices of Iraq which is hitting various US art house cinemas. The film is up with the latest trends by relying on hand-held digital cameras. The stars are “ordinary” Iraqis who say how good things are these days and even include some former Iraqi political prisoners who have a good laugh about all that nonsense about Abu Ghraib torture.

The film is getting good PR – being promoted by Manning Selvage & Lee – former PR firm to the US army. To check out more details visit http://alternet.org/mediaculture/20760/

Britain’s Private Eye has a regular feature called Number Crunching – comparing various numbers.

Recently the feature revealed the following statistics:  700 – Parliamentary Hours devoted to decision to implement the ban on fox hunting. 7 – Parliamentary hours devoted to decision to go to war against Iraq.

It’s that time of the year again (1)
It’s that time of year again – people and events of the year.

Time opted for George W. Bush. Most Australian media are opting for John Howard.

The Financial Times, however, went for an interesting choice – Eliot Spitzer, New York state attorney-general and announced candidate for the New York Governorship. The FT pointed out that Spitzer had achieved much in corporate reform; that his career so far rather resembled that of one Teddy Roosevelt; and that he might just one day be a candidate for President just like Teddy.

Other candidates considered for the award included George W, Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan, Victor Yushchenko and others. Two strong candidates, according to the FT, were the “two hard men who got re-elected in Australia and Russia.”

How perspectives have changed when Australian Liberal PMs get bracketed with Russian PMs on the grounds of similarity.

It’s that time of the year (2)

It’s also that time of the year when various religious events and inventions are celebrated – from Christmas to Chanukah to Kwanzi. Kwanzi  – don’t ask! – just contemplate for a moment how the New York retail industry simply couldn’t leave African-Americans out of the gift-giving December which generates so many profits.

But the religious festivals remind us that there are still people out there campaigning against religion. A few months ago Annie Laurie Gaynor, the co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation in the US, visited Australia. While here she gave a talk at Melbourne’s Unitarian Church and quoted the 19th century US feminist and suffrage campaigner Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Stanton said: “You may go the world over and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman. There is not one who has not made her subject to man. ….What power is it that makes the Hindoo(sic) woman burn herself on the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of religion? By their religion.

“Man of himself could not do this: but when he declares, ‘Thus saith the Lord’, of course he can do it.

“You Christian women can look at the Hindoo, the Turkish, the Mormon women and wonder how they can be held in such bondage. Observe today the work women are doing for the churches”

After a bit of a go at St Augustine’s attitude to women Stanton ends with the appeal: “We want to help roll off from the soul of woman the terrible superstitions that have so long repressed and crushed her”.

An appeal which might just be suitable for 21st century women dealing with the Anglican Church in Sydney?

The Church and Mammon

For those worried about the rise of fundamentalism and concerned that secular humanists are not making any ground against it – put your bets on Mammon.

According to ABC Online on 21 December 2004 a pastor from a church in Bunbury in WA has been charged after Christmas carollers allegedly blocked the path of people trying to enter a local shopping centre.

Appears people got upset because the Christians were a bit intimidating and upset customers. Senior Sergeant Geoff Fuller, who arrested the pastor, said: “If he’s trying to get a message out to the public of his cause the fine but when you start going over the top to the stage where you get yourself arrested because you’re imposing on people’s free movement around town then the consequences aren’t very nice leading up to Christmas.”

Miscellany can see a most unholy alliance developing – secular humanists, retailers and  money-lenders combining to drive the Christians out of our modern temples, the suburban shopping centre.