Red Ned

By Routt, William D. | Metro Magazine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Red Ned


Routt, William D., Metro Magazine


I

I thought it was about a bunch of guys shooting guns and riding horses, making havoc wherever they went, but then I discovered they were unjustly persecuted and were fighting for freedom and for justice.

ORLANDO BLOOM (1)

Ned Kelly (2003), Gregor Jordan's new film, is the best feature film about Ned Kelly.

It is not the most important feature film about Ned Kelly. That would be The Story Of The Kelly Gang (1906), the world's first secular narrative feature film. It is not the most interesting feature film about Ned Kelly. That would be one of the features made by Harry Southwell between 1920 and 1934 (The Kelly Gang, When The Kellys Were Out, When The Kellys Rode) or, possibly, Rupert Kathner's The Glenrowan Affair (1951)--any one of which would qualify as one of the most boring films about Ned Kelly as well. It is not the most ambitious feature film about Ned Kelly. That would be Tony Richardson's Ned Kelly (1970). It is not the funniest feature film about Ned Kelly. That would be Yahoo Serious's Reckless Kelly (1993). It is not even the best feature film about bushrangers. That would be, by a country mile, Mad Dog Morgan (Philippe Mora, 1976).

But this is the best feature film about Ned Kelly. It is the best in the sense that it is the most 'classical'. It tells an uncomplicated story smoothly and with a certain (retro) style. Of all the features made about the Kellys, this is really the only one that could be counted on to entertain most audiences. And it has an uncompromising political message that Ned himself might endorse: oppressed people can, and ought to, fight back. A couple of days ago I heard a boy of about ten or so waxing enthusiastic about Ned Kelly to his siblings and his shocked and distressed mother. This is a film for that boy, and for all kids who hate injustice. I will certainly buy the DVD for my grandchildren. An Australian Adventures Of Robin Hood, then? Perhaps.

II

We [Steven Jones Evans and Anna Borghesi] both wanted a really restricted palette, and chose only about four or five colours with different variations and tones.

STEVEN JONES EVANS

Ned Kelly begins in an unusual way. The screen is washed in green light. A boy swims down, his movements transformed by bright green water into an oneiric dance. Not, you would think, the way to begin a movie about our armoured outlaw of the outback--a robber, a rebel, a killer. And, indeed, most of the rest of the film seems to be in tones of black and tan and grey and brown. Green, the emerald of Ireland, is not a dominant colour in Ned Kelly's Australia, which is predominantly the colour of dirt, dust, rocks, wood and mud.

But from the beginning, then, the film suggests that it will deal with banditry in a highly-stylized manner. At the same time, the style to be employed is smooth--even soothing--not at all like, for example, the rough-hewn, viscerally epic mode of Gangs Of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002). At first I had no name for it, but I sensed two (pretty obvious) antecedents: the Australian 'renaissance' of the seventies and certain Hollywood westerns, maybe The True Story Of Jesse James (Nicholas Ray, 1957) or Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969). Ned Kelly looks very much like a 'renaissance' film. It positively swills in our wide-screen landscape, even cutting now and again to totemic native animals (at first, creatures like a kangaroo, but by the end, a lizard and a snake). It also has that typically renaissance mission to demystify and remystify the Australian past. In some ways, Ned Kelly's closet ancestors are not earlier films about the Kellys, but such films of masculine national identity as 'Breaker' Morant (Bruce Beresford, 1980) and Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981). The ties to the American westerns I mentioned are perhaps less obvious (and my own memories of them not so reliable), but, as I recall, they too told their stories smoothly, with some lingering nostalgia, and they tried to make some kind of case for outlawry. …

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