War movie is one of the most popular genres for Australian filmmakers. Those movies are not served as a recount historical event, but also a visual description of Australian soldier’s images in different war battles. This comparative analysis aims to contrast the diverse techniques used by two movies to deploy the same theme of war. Although the two Australian war-genre films – Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) and The Odd Angry Shot(Jeffrey 1979) – were located in different time period, there are overlapping concepts in describing of Australia’s involvement in both World War I and Vietnam War. Thus, it is essential to move beyond to exploit how those concepts coincide in both movies.
Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) tells the story of Australian miners who were members of the first Australian Tunneling Company to mine under a German bunker and discharge anexplosive charge to aid the advance of British troops in World War I. The majority of the movie is devoted in screening the hardship Woodward (Brendan Cowell)’s team in implementing their plan to trespass the German’s military base. The film celebrates these Australian mining engineers as heroic and intelligent soldiers who make important contribution to the Allies’ victory in that battle. On the other hand, The Odd Angry Shot(Jeffrey 1979) follows the experience of Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War. The movie merely focus on the experiences of the soldiers away from the battle field, spending the bulk of their time gambling, smoking, drinking beer, making jokes about masturbationand having some competitions with the American forces. There is no clear indication of the outcome in any battles that Australian soldiers involve. In fact, the character Harry (Graham Kennedy) once affirms that “There is no good by being here … because we can’t win”. There are contradictory images of Australian soldiers sketched out in two movies. While Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) praises them as heroes, Australia’s involvement in Vietnam War in the later film is perceived as an embarrassment when returning home. The concept of masculinity is therefore shown differently in two movies. Beneath Hill 60(Sims 2010) emphasizes images Australian male as tough, brave, clever, adaptive. Mateship is also a part of masculinity through the protecting between men, and helping injured soldiers scenes. Oppositely, by using similar motif in the movie Wake in Fright, The Odd Angry Shot (Jeffrey 1979) mostly employs beer-drinking scenes – especially Forster beer – to capture a snapshot of Aussie men (i.e. alcohol addicted). Thus, although Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) and The Odd Angry Shot (Jeffrey 1979) share a related topic about war, the later film can be considered as exploitation film of Australian culture – i.e. Ozploitation film – while uses war as an underpinning theme. There are nudity, violence, sexploitation moments presented in The Odd Angry Shot film, whereas these scenes can hardly be found in the film Beneath Hill 60. In this light, Benneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) is regarded as a mainstream film and The Odd Angry Shot (Jeffrey 1979) contradictorily exposes the ‘ground rules’ that are built the previous mainstream cinematic model (Laseur 1990).
Apart from the opposing images as outlined above, two movies also share number of similar settings. Firstly, it is a coincident in depicting the landscape. Instead of concentrating in screening traditional landscape at home as in other Australian feature films (i.e. endless deserts, mythical land etc) to create a unique Australian-ness, these movies mainly capture difficult conditions in hostile countries. The landscape is purposefully depicted as harsh to emphasize the challenges that Australian soldiers face. Although the location is set differently such as Missini Ridge in Belgium in Beneath Hill 60(Sims 2010) and a jungle in South Vietnam in The Odd Angry Shot (Jeffrey 1979), there are a common scenes of muddy, wet soil, unexpected rains across the two movies. Gibson’s (1993, p.247) notion of ‘terror in the bush’ revisits in The Odd Angry Shot (Jeffrey 1979) as the tropical forest is presented as dark with sudden danger may happen any time. Most of the film Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) takes place in trenches and tunnels. This gives the audience a sense of the claustrophobia and boredom of the soldiers’ lives (UNSW: OZ Cinema + TV, n.d.). However, whenever the two movies screen the landscape at home, Australia always appears beautifully with blue sea and green bush views. This purposefully depicts the idea that home country is always a safest, warmest place to welcome the soldiers’ return, thus a sense of belonging is created. Furthermore, two movies recognize Australian national identity is through the sporting culture – a favorite image for many Australians. Rugby is played in Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) while volleyball is played inThe Odd Angry Shot (Jeffrey 1979). Further similarity between two movies is the ignorance of women’s role. Woodward’s sweetheart in Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) only appears in his flashback when he was still in Queensland. Similarly, Bill’s girlfriend is rarely mentioned except at the beginning and when he receives the only letter from her in nine-months away from home. Bill’s girlfriend is portrayed as badly as not embarrassing of sex, and no loyalty. No woman distracts attention from the main male characters in both movies. Australian women are mostly standing and waiting, serving their “myth-making masters”. These films reinforce the idea of Australia as a man’s country (McFarlane 1987, p.52). Also, representations of the country’s Aboriginal population in both movies are neglected. Only White Australian men are recognized as Australian representatives in two movies. This invisibility of indigenous Australian also tells audience a ‘dark’ period in Australian history. It is a negative notion of racism as if Aboriginals have no role in Australian society during the time the movies are set. No Aboriginals could join the army simply because they were not seen as Australian thus could not participate in any political issues. It has been hard to locate Aboriginies in any themes of the two movies (Langton 1993, p.24), thus disallowance of their images at all would be an easier solution.
In conclusion, although some films, such as Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010) and The Odd Angry Shot (Jeffrey 1979), are all Australian war-genre films, there are diverse methods in exploiting this theme. The former follows a mainstream cinematic model, whereas the later is heading towards ‘Ozploitation’ cinema. This leads to differences representation of several concepts in two movies. Despite there are number of repetitive motifs across these movies, film criticisms should closely analyze individual film based on its own story, and avoid a uncritical stereotypes such as ‘Australian war movies always celebrate Australian soldiers as country heroes’. These affirmations are not always true, thus care should be taken.
Brian McFarlane, “Ch.4: Mates and Others in a Wide Brown Land: Images of Australia” in McFarlane, Australian Cinema 1970 – 1985 (Melbourne: Heinemann, 1987), 47 – 69
Carol Laseur (1990) Australian exploitation film: the politics of bad taste’, in Adrian Martin, ed., Continum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, vol.5 no 2
Dave Palmer and Garry Gillard, ‘Aboriginies, Ambivalence and Australian Film’, Metro Magazine (No.134), 128 – 134
Marcia Langton, “Section Two: The Politics of Aboriginal Representation,” in Langton,“Well I Heard It On The Radio and I Saw It On the Television …” An essay from the Australian Film Commission (Sydney: AFC, 1993)
Meaghan Morris (2004) ‘Beyond Assimilation: Aboriginality, Media History and Public Memory’ in Rouge, No.3
Meaghan Morris, “White panic or Mad Max and the Sublime” in Kuan-Hsing Chen, ed.,Trajectories: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1998), 239 – 262
Ross Gibson, ‘Camera Natura: Landscape in Australian Feature Films’ in John and Meaghan Morris, eds, Australian Cultural Studies (St. Leonard’s: Allen & Unwin, 1993), 2009 – 221
UNSW: Oz Cinema + Television (n.d.), accessed 25 April 2011, <http://ozcinema.weebly.com/reviews.html>
Beneath Hill 60 (Sims 2010)
The Odd Angry Shot (Jeffrey 1979)