Snowtown: The Best Australian Film?

None of my family would see Snowtown for fear if its truth and no woman I know wants to see it but it’s a great work that, like King Lear, transcends its violence and like our comings-forth and our goings-hence and our nightmares in senility must be endured.

In a dusty fibro suburb offering few choices — the world is five backyards wide, a rusty bike or two, a wobbly TV, mum’s latest fancy-man, ghastly spag-and-snag dinners, glutinous breakfasts, quarrels, noise and sleeplessness, no cars, no regular paid work, a happy-clappy church that no-one much enjoys— a smiling Tempter, John Bunting, arrives with a plan to kill perverts — a crusade really, a pogrom, a skirmish in a war of sexual genocide — and by proselytising among the damaged, the idle, the womanless, the drunk and the daft, secures enough disciples to carry out his plan. Kiddie-fiddlers are tortured and killed, one agreeing in a bloodied bath that he deserves it — kill me, I deserve it — and then other sorts of people and a kind of sado-puritan death-cult grows up around this practise, and worse and worse atrocities are envisioned and carried out.

Bunting has the charisma of good shoe salesman, no more, yet he finds among these idle hands much devil-work to do, as Roehm in other times did among the testy sluggard onanists who made up Hitler’s SS. If you doubted before this the existence of Evil — and I certainly did, thinking it a lazy explanation for complex historic interactions — you will come away from this film, and sleep uneasily after it, a true believer; almost a fellow traveller, having understood it all so well.

With a method like Mike Leigh’s of improvised group rehearsal Justin Kurzel has wrenched out of his inexperienced cast (Daniel Henshall, the award winner, was the lone professional in it, and Lucas Pittaway, who is as good as Heath Ledger, had never acted before) work of such lacerating intimate credibility that you think it has really happened, and you were in the room when it did.

Should it have been made? Well, the arguments against Titus Andronicus are better (‘Why, there they both are, baked in that pie’); and No Country For Old Men; and Mad Max 3; and The Road.

The proper comparison I think is with Lord Of The Flies, a work on many school courses, about — like this — the unleashing of humankind’s inner beast by what Iago called ‘a permission of the will’. Wars are connived in just this way by false allegations of adversaries’ diabolical deeds — the Belgian babies on German bayonets; the beheading in roaring Afghan soccer stadiums of young women for wearing lipstick; the WMD — and cities bombed and young men tortured, snarling dogs at their genitals, because our side is morally superior to those we widow and kill. In Snowtown the same thing happens close-up, and face to face.

If ever there was an argument for tax-funded useless jobs it is the one we see in this film. Idleness; idleness; and grubby demeaning poverty and no exit from it are what stir these glum inconsummate also-rans and under-medicated drifters to slaughter and cover-up, eating one’s neighbours and kissing the lips of decapitated women, and awkward obedience to a Leader, a petty backyard Hitler with a vision of decency restored.

With jobs and the price of a night at the flicks, a beer and some popcorn with a girl you knew at high school it would not have happened. If the job was painting rocks white then painting them brown then painting them white again (as in Lang’s Workfare schemes of the early 30s) the result would have been for these men a life, a real life lived, and not just a Godot-wait for extinction.

Kurzel found his cast by hanging around a shopping mall in an adjacent similar suburb looking for faces that resembled the originals, and going up to those who had them, and asking them to audition. Louise Harris, who won an AFI Award for Best Supporting Actress, responded to this harassment by telling him to ‘fuck off’, repeatedly.

The result is a film that rivals the best of Polanski, and a lesson to us all in economy, persistence, passion and vision.

And it is to my eternal shame that I opposed its funding when on the AFF committee, believing its mixture of cannibalism, improvisation and amateur acting cinematically nitroglycerous, and spoke against it forcefully. Happily, I was outvoted and overruled.

And it stands with Samson and Delilah and Beneath Hill 60 among the best three Australian films and it should, it really should, be seen.

  1. Never Enough Ellis

    Three films I have yet to see, Bob. On your recommendation I shall seek them out.

    One film I think a complete delight, that spoke to me at just the right time, and evokes romance, possibility and wonder: The Nostradamus Kid. Thank you Bob.

  2. Evil as depicted by the Cinema for me was made manifest with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (the original Austrian film version).

    Haneke even gives you a glimpse of relief when you think it couldn’t get any worse, by filmically (is that a word) almost comically in the midst of the film, rewinds in fast motion a few minutes of the previous action, before pulling the rug out from under you once again, and rubbing in the futility of hope.

    Snowtown is so grim, it is so real, it is so vivid, it is not the underbelly of our world, it is our world 20 train stations away.

Leave a Comment

* Copy this password:

* Type or paste password here:

532 Spam Comments Blocked so far by Spam Free Wordpress

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>