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Cinephilosophy On the other side of our eyeballs

Rallying Around The Flag

A review of 100 Greatest Films Of Australian Cinema, ed. Scott Hocking, Scribal Publishing, 2006

Bernard Hemingway

Not many people would be aware that Australian cinema has produced 100 great films, so the title of Scott Hocking’s compendium immediately arouses interest. According to the introduction the roster was compiled from Top 20 lists solicited from “a selection of esteemed filmmakers, critics and commentators” who were given the criteria of artistic, narrative and technical merit, cultural significance, prior and post achievements of creative personnel, and the characteristics of being typical of their time and being quintessentially Australian. There does not, however, appear to have been a requirement that any film meet all or a significant proportion of these criteria and the result is, to say the least, an eclectic mix.

There are unequivocal examples of the best of Australian film here – Picnic At Hanging Rock, Breaker Morant, Sunday Too Far Away, Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding and Lantana to mention a few. But there are also films that iin only satisfying one criteria are notably problematic inclusions. Few would regard Tim Burstall’s Alvin Purple or Bruce Beresford’s first film, The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie, as instances of great Australian cinema. They were significant in reflecting a new D-I-Y self-awareness amongst Australian audiences in the late 60s and early 70s but as cinema they were rubbish. Equally whilst Beresford has gone on to international success why is his 1991 film Black Robe here? Set in Canada, telling a Canadian story with a cast of Canadian and North American actors it seems a gratuitous inclusion, particularly as, with seven entries, he has the largest presence of any single director and, for instance, Emma-Kate Croghan’s Love and Other Catastrophes, much-admired by critics and the public alike, is omitted.

If the above films represent the extreme inconsistencies of the book’s range, the middle ground is filled with films that are less than stellar. On the basis of its huge domestic and international success, few people, even whilst acknowledging that it is not a great film, would withhold a guernsey from Crocodile Dundee but there is a preponderance of mainstream crowd-pleasers like The Man From Snowy River and Phar Lap or smaller-scale films such as The Big Steal or Spotswood which, whilst being highly enjoyable, do not stand out per se and are interchangeable with any number of similar quality equivalents. Similarly, whilst recent releases such Somersault and Little Fish are included, Sarah Watt’s Look Both Ways and Annas Reeves’ Oyster Farmer, which would seem equally, if not more deserving of inclusion in Hocking's book, are not.

Partly, this prepoderance of popular but unremarkable titles is a function of the way in which the book has been compiled – certain films will tend to recur on individual lists and hence dominate numerically. Less frequent nominations, usually lower profile films, will simply drop out of sight, irrespective of their merits. Where is Ken Hannam’s Summerfield or Tim Burstall’s Last of the Knucklemen one might ask? Even so, one wonders why little known films such as Annie’s Coming Out and Cunnamulla (the only documentary inclusion) are present, but better-known social issue films such as Moving Out or Mallboy are not. The implication is that some kind of editorial intervention has governed the final outcome.

Such inconsistencies stem also from editor Hocking’s tendency to concentrate on the content of a film rather than its form, on the what rather than the how. Thus for him, Igor Auzin’s We of the Never Never, a film that at best could be described as diligent, is “the quintessential Australian film”

The overall impression of a trying to please an imaginged audience might have been avoided had an attempt been made to define what makes for greatness in Australian cinema (and, in turn, cinema in general) or even what ties together the 100 films selected. All that the reader gets, howeer, is a two page introduction from Hocking. Had a more rigorous approach been adopted the result would have been of more merit, although it may have been a struggle to reach the more marketable century.

100 Greatest Films Of Australian Cinema is not an academic text but rather a coffee table book, bringing together what might be more accurately described as 100 of Australia’s Best Loved, Most Commercially Successful Films, Including a Few Others. As such, the individual short review-style essays on each film are easily readable although with no consistent approach and the image quality varies greatly from film to film. It would have helped to see more consistency in this latter respect. Some films are accompanied by the original advertising posters and if this practice had been adhered to throughout it would have added considerably to the book’s overall value, as would have some kind of appendix giving an at least minimal overview of the listings by director and year of release.

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