National Cinema

GALLIPOLI (1981): An example of Australian National Cinema

The period of 1970s – 1980s was perceived as a ‘golden age’ of Australian film industry (Darrenarcher n.d.). Government support for national film industry which resulted in the establishments of different State’s Film Commission enabled the explosion of many films that celebrated the national identity.  The notion of ‘National Cinema’ thus emerged and led to the revival of this sector. This concept often involves the ideas of representing the nation to its citizens. Its intention is to communicate what constitutes national identity, and to differentiate ‘authentically’ Australian films from the aggressive spread of the dominated British and American industry. Finding the right national identity was a challenging process. To qualify as a representation of Australian National Cinema, the film must contain certain elements that present some senses of unique ‘Australian-ness’. In economic terms, a ‘national cinema’ is concerned with the film’s production. Such issues would comprise the place where the film was made, the nationalities of the residential status of leading creative inputs, the source of finance of the film, etc (Higson, 1989).  More crucial requirement must lie in the subject-matter of film. Here the key questions would become: what is this film about? Is it celebrating any Australian values or relating to any particular national history? The movie ‘Gallipoli’ (1981) is used as a reference to examine how the above characteristics intertwined to construct the notion of ‘National Cinema’

Firstly, it was the production that makes ‘Gallipoli’ to carry a sense of ‘National Cinema’. Together with the fact that the movie was shot primarily in South Australia, most of its leading creative inputs have connections with Australia. The film was directed by Peter Weir – an Australian film director. His knowledge obtained from Australia’s education system, previous work experience in Australian film industry should certainly leave his movies some Australian tastes.  ‘Gallipoli’ was considered as his second hit in Australia after a major breakthrough of ‘Picnic of Hanging Rock’ in 1975.  One of the main characters in ‘Gallipoli; (i.e. Archy Hamilton) was played by Mark Lee who is also an Australian actor and director. Though Mel Gibson who played the role of Frank Dunne is now an American star, he had been living in Sydney and studying at Australian National Institute of Dramatic Art. The movie’s screenplay and music were also composed by Australian artists – David Williamson and Brian May. In addition, the movie’s funding source was also from Australia. Gallipoli had the highest budget of an Australian film. The film was originally funded by the South Australian Film Corporation and then Rupert Murdoch’s production company. Because all of the input elements have Australia’s involvement, they make the movie to be proudly called an Australian product. It is thus partly proved that ‘Gallipoli’ can be seen as a ‘National Cinema’.

Nevertheless, it would be overstating its national status if the film’s content is overlooked. The film follows the major motif of Australian movies – celebrating victory in defeat (Darrenarcher n.d.). As the name suggests, Gallipoli celebrates the country’s dominant myth – the ANZAC legend. It is the key foundational native in terms of national identity. The Gallipoli battle remarks the moment of birth of the nationhood for Australia. The sentence ‘If we don’t stop them, they would end up here’ spoken by the character Archy confirms Australia’s purpose in the war. It declares that Australian soldiers were fighting and scarified themselves to protect their country, and not following the British blindly. Thus, the movie shows the world strong national character of Australia. The film deploys humor on British soldiers as it gives an ‘intentional slur’ on them (Freeburry, 1987). A ‘selfish’ characteristic of British soldiers is portrayed when a British commander completely disregards all advice from the front, insisted that the attack must continue so that the British can land safely (, n.d.). The movie is a discourse of anti-colonialism, and promoting a break-out from its ‘motherhood’ relationship with Britain. Beside, national identity is also realized through the sporting culture – a favorite image for Australians. There are several running competitions across the movie’s theme. In every competition, there is always a spirit of fair-play which Australian is always proud of. This is presented by the statement of Archy before he is running to compete with the horse “Bare foot, bare back”. ‘Gallipoli’ is thus a celebration of intrinsically Australian value (Freebury, 1987). Mateship is also part of that celebration. The idea of mateship has become essential in the Australian cinema (Darrenarcher n.d.). Archy and Frank have shown the importance of this mateship in war time to survive in the hostile environment. Mateship is not unique to Australia, but it became crucial in early colonial times because the difficult environment required the joining together for survival. The movie also shows dominant Australian images through the appearance of two typical Australian stereotypes. Arch is the bushman – the ‘pure’ Australian and Frank is the urban Australian – the ‘larrikins’. According to Rattigan (1991), the two images are ‘mythical representatives’ of Australian identity – bush and city. The outback landscape is also exploited to create the unique ‘Australia-ness’. As Freebury pointed out that ‘the landscape is the basis for national status, the scenes of endless desserts in Western Australia represents the motif for the heartland. For Australia, the outback has become a recognizable national symbol to be filmed because landscape can reflect a nation’s heritage and identity.

Though Gallipoli is proudly celebrating various Australian values, the movie is also challenged by number of criticisms. The major dispute lies in its historical accuracy. The movie is criticized for unfairly portraying the British during the battle. The mentioned attack which caused many Australian deaths was in fact a diversion for the New Zealander’s attack, and not for the British landing (Freebury, 1987). Thus the blame of Australian soldiers sacrificed for British benefit was partly incorrect. This critic has caused much confusion when being watched by Britain’s audience. Rather a factual recount of historical events, Gallipoli is only telling a story of national myths. The question of to what degree the importance of historical accuracy should be emphasized in Australian National Cinema is confronted. Movies that aims to identify national idenity should avoid the bias approach as in ‘Gallipoli’. Otherwise, it may cause negative responds from foreign audience, and thus against its initial purpose of introducing the nation’s uniqueness on both national and international level. Therefore, to represent as a ‘National Cinema’, movies should place more balance on celebrating Australian values while maintaining the genuineness of history.

Gallipoli was received with almost positive responds in Australia. The Australians see themselves in Gallipoli. Disregard of major critics for its historical accuracy and negative perception in foreign culture, the movie has manipulated audience’s emotions with the powerful national symbols (Freebury 1987). However the notion of ‘Australian National Cinema’ is not restricted within the elements that were presented in ‘Gallipoli’. More references must be further examined to enrich the list of National Cinema’s discourses. This is because there is no limit of components to identify the national ideology.


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