Last night, I got a text from our friend Jackie telling me about a film on t.v.. It was called The Castle, and she said it was an Aussie classic, so I should check it out.
It turned out to be absolutely hilarious, a tale of a man who is fighting to keep his house from being bulldozed to make way for an airport expansion. It was sweet without being cloying, telling the story of some really, really dumb people while treating them with love and bemused respect rather than just poking fun at them. It was fantastic, and it's just one of many great Australian films.
Here's a test for you. Name five Australian films. I don't just mean films made in Australia like Happy Feet or Moulin Rouge, or even ones that use Australia as a set like Mission Impossible 2. I mean films that address Australian themes, people and ideas, films that tell you something about the country.
A year ago, I might have said Crocodile Dundee, Japanese Story, and, of course, the overblown Jackman-Kidman blockbuster that lumbered across the screens last year. Since I enjoy quirky late night movies, I would also have said Sirens, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. For bonus points I might have argued for Finding Nemo (with its chorus of "23 Wallaby Way, Sydney"). And I probably would have stopped there.
Ask an Australian the same thing, and not only could they name half a dozen good films, they could probably get them for you: at our local video store I recently rented Romper Stomper, a gritty film starring a young Russell Crowe as a neo-Nazi skinhead in Melbourne; The Castle was shown at 9:30 p.m. on one of the main t.v. channels; we've borrowed a copy of Puberty Blues, a coming-of-age film about young surfers.
I also want to see Picnic at Hanging Rock, Kenny, Galipoli, The Man from Snowy River, Phar Lap, Rabbit-Proof Fence and a host of others, and I suspect I'll have little trouble getting them.
Now name five Canadian films. Ummmm... There's Black Robe. Men with Brooms. Jesus of Montreal. Wayne's World has a joke that only a Canadian will get (a donut shop called Stan Mikita's) -- does that count?
Again, because of my love of late night movies and arthouse cinema, I can add a few others like The Adventures of Faustus Bidgood (a surreal tale of Newfoundland independence), Highway 61 (a road trip from Thunder Bay to New Orleans), Beautiful Dreamers (about Walt Whitman visiting an asylum in London, Ontario), Margaret's Museum (memories of a coal mine disaster, with a cameo by a mummified penis). Not exactly huge hits -- some of them with good reason. I'm not sure how many of those I could find at Rogers Video, but I'd wager it's pretty few. And the last time I saw a Canadian-made movie on prime time t.v. was....?
Of course there are good reasons for this. Canadian filmmakers naturally migrate to Hollywood, or else stay in Canada and work for Hollywood without leaving home. Our stories, you could argue, get told in other ways, or else influence American film-making. (Renfrew of The Royal Mounted, anyone?)
Whatever the reason, though, there are some things Canadians do better than Australians, and some areas where it's the other way around. When it comes to telling their country's stories on film, this one goes to the Aussies.