Thematising the Global: Recent Australian Film

By Dalziell, Tanya; Hughes-D'Aeth, Tony | Post Script, Winter-Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Thematising the Global: Recent Australian Film


Dalziell, Tanya, Hughes-D'Aeth, Tony, Post Script


NOT PARIS; OR, GLOBALISATION REPRESSED

Released in the 1970s, a decade which saw the emergence of a New Wave of Australian nationalist cinema, Peter Weir's film The Cars that Ate Paris (1974) is an expressionist counterpoint to his more famous impressionist study, Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). While the painterly mise-en-scene of Picnic at Hanging Rock directly recalls the Heidelberg School of the 1880s and 1890s, The Cars that Ate Paris complicates the nationalist narratives and symbols that the Heidelberg School set in motion. Picnic at Hanging Rock's lost children, themselves a venerable tradition, embody the ambivalent enclosure of colonial Australia in an estranged landscape. Yet, the anxieties in The Cars that Ate Paris are sourced beyond national boundaries. To put this another way: if Picnic at Hanging Rock acquires its cues from Frederick McCubbin's painting Lost (1886), then The Cars that Ate Paris abstracts its visual and psychic references from Arthur Boyd's The Expulsion (1947-48), and the angel driving the inhabitants from its paradise is none other than an insistent world external to the nation.

This essay focuses on an unrelenting outside world that today often takes on the title of "globalisation." The primary concern lies with the efforts of Australian films to produce various visions of globalisation on screen in image. However, some consideration is also given to the ways in which globalisation impacts on Australian cinema as an industry. Further, the essay speculates on the effects of globalisation on citizens of cinema and the Australian nation alike as well as the consequences this encounter might have for current frameworks through which Australian film is read.

In order to begin to address these issues, it is profitable to return to Weir's film and pose the question: why Paris? Weir's Australian "Paris" does not represent the kind of psychic vanishing point presented nearly a decade later in Paris, Texas (1983), but rather an antipodean involution of Europe's definitive cultural metropolis. Paris, in Weir's film, is not a "world capital" that prides itself on a cosmopolitan sensibility, as is the popular perception of Paris, France. Instead, it is a small Australian town whose social and moral economy turns around the trading of parts salvaged from wrecked cars (and their damaged occupants). Indeed, in so far as the film is centred on a community located outside the dictates of metropolitan values and preying on innocent strangers, the film may seem to call to mind an American film like Deliverance (1972). However, the inhabitants of Paris are not regressed, backwater yokels, at least not outwardly. Whereas Deliverance invokes a literary tradition including Edgar Allan Poe and William Faulkner, of morally perverted rural folk, Weir's film bypasses a cognate tradition found in the darker, late nineteenth-century Australian tales of Barbara Baynton and Henry Lawson, and instead targets middle-Australian civility itself. Overseen by the fascistic Mayor (John Meillon), Paris enjoys an unusually high incidence of car crashes and it is the seemingly law-abiding citizens of Paris who set the lethal road traps for unsuspecting motorists passing near the borders of the town. Paris is literally and figuratively a "dead end," its citizens suspicious of everything and everyone nominated "outside," which they cannibalise in a sustaining act of repression.

Not surprisingly, not all is right within the town itself. As a pastiche, Weir's film crimps together a number of dissonant registers of the small town, jumping from John Ford low angle stand-offs in the main street to the untenable pastoralism of Paris's irretrievable past, that is given ironic form in the landscape shots which frame the town and particularly its entrances. Further, the civic centre of Paris is depicted as a disconcertingly busy psychiatric asylum whose inmates appear at the final costume ball in a deft moment of Brechtian absurdity. …

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