The Sunday Cult Film Corner: “Walkabout (1971)”

19 May


Awww man. It’s been a long ass bank holiday weekend and I have done NOTHING. Nothing of any note whatsoever  OK, I live-tweeted the multiple car pile up that was Eurovision, but that doesn’t really count as a masturbating monkey could do the same job. And better.

I’ve also been rather lazy on the blog front. Been finishing up a couple of pieces for the paper along with some IRL issues has meant that this corner of cyberspace has been a little fallow for a few days. There are a few topics that have been sloshing in my brain cavity for quite a few days now and I need to get them on some kind of print, lest I go completely mad. Watch this space.

But that is for tomorrow. Tonight is Sunday night and that means it’s time to partake in some digital celluloid delights. And for this week’s episode of the THE SUNDAY CULT FILM CORNER is a film that is a truly powerful allegory of the destructive nature of modern society that overloads the senses by showing the world in bleeding close up. Ladies and gentlemen I give to you WALKABOUT.

Made in 1971 and the directorial debut of film legend Nicolas Roeg, it’s loosely based on the novel “Walkabout” by James Vance Marshall. It stars Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg as a teenage girl and her younger brother living with their family in Australia. They lead a cosseted modern lifestyle, with all the mod con you would expect from a well to do family. The film then cuts to the harsh Australian outback where they are with their father, a geologist. Suddenly, for no reason, the father goes berserk and tries to kill the children with a gun before setting fire to the car and killing himself. Stranded in a hostile environment with no skills to fend for themselves things look grim, until they come across a teenage aboriginal boy (Played by David Gulpilil) who is on a Walkabout, a ceremonial rite of passage that involves him living and fending for himself away from his tribe for up to 6 months. Despite haring no common language the aboriginal boy uses his bush skills to help take care of the brother and sister. However the cultural and societal strains between the boy and the sister lead to tragic consequences that affect everyone forever.

WALKABOUT  is simply a stunning film, both to see and to listen to. The cinematography by Roeg and Tony Richmond is so vivid to be almost hallucinatory. The reds of the desert sand shimmer in the oppressive heat of the sun. There are amazing panoramic takes of the Australian outback that contain numerous cuts to the various wildlife that seem to be watching the children from afar, as if to show that even in this harsh terrain, the place is teeming with life. It shows the Australian outback as a dangerous, yet mysterious and almost mystical place where strange things happen. It’s where the waking world and the “dreamtime” blend into one. This is allied with the sounds of the outback that are allied with ethnic aboriginal sounds and a stirring score from John Barry. It’s definitely a film that invites you to both look and listen for the messages that are contained within itself.

There are two main themes that run throughout WALKABOUT. The first is the how our modern way of live seems to have stripped society of being able to connect with out surroundings. The opening scenes show our modern world bursting onto the screen. Harassed workers commute to and form work. People cooped up in blocks of flats surrounded by technology. Radio programmes that tell us what knife to use with what food. But despite all this everyone leads neurotic quiet lives of desperation. The film shows the clash between two alien cultures, that of the white settlers, in the form of the brother and sister and the indigenous population, in the form of the boy. Both the brother and sister look clean and pressed in their school uniforms and speak interestingly with English accents (To further press the point of the clash between the European settlers and the aboriginal people). The film has a cutaway scene showing, in a microcosm of the oppressive relationship between the two cultures, a white man roughly orders around a group of aboriginal people into making kitsch souvenirs of Australian culture. There is also an interesting moment the killing of bush animals is cut with a butchers carving up an animal carcass, further showing the distance between nature and modern civilization.

The second one is that of sexuality and coming of age. Both the boy and the sister are reaching the age of sexual awakening. Indeed the conservative, slightly prudish sister is an unworldly girl who is unaware of her blossoming sexuality of that she shows this when she swims naked or walks in a short school skirt. As the film progresses we see the boy becoming aware of his own sexuality and his feelings toward the sister. His attempts to initiate a closer bond is one of the main turning point s in the film’s defining moments. Amongst this is another cutaway scene the displays the sexual tension between a female meteorologist and her colleagues whoa are out in the outback.

While WALKABOUT tells of the plight and issues between white settlers and the Aborigines in Australia (which is still as relevant today as ever), the deeper messages of man’s strained relationship with his environment is a deeper one that affects all of us who live in the modern world. Sometimes it’s worth reminding us of how far we are removed from the world, yet all it takes is a little push for us to realise that our modern way of living shields us from living in harmony with our environment.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Film


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