Three Oz greats in film and TV this week

Last night on ABC1 was Ivan Sen’s wonderful 2013 movie Mystery Road.

User Reviews

A very good film with superb cinematography

11 October 2013 | by Roger Pettit (London) – See all my reviews

“Mystery Road” is a thriller (with film noir overtones) and a western rolled into one. It examines race relations in modern-day Australia, in particular those between the indigenous Aboriginal population and those Australians of European descent. It does so through the eyes of Aboriginal detective Joe Swan (Aaron Pedersen), who returns after a period of 10 years away to the remote small Australian town in which his daughter Crystal (Tricia Whitton) and her mother – Swan’s estranged wife, Mary (Tasma Walton) – live. Swan is immediately thrown into the investigation of the murder of a teenage Aboriginal girl, whose body has been discovered in the outskirts of the town. His investigations soon yield a great deal of uncomfortable information, including police corruption, sexual exploitation and the possible involvement in the crime of his ex-wife and daughter (as well as sundry other local residents). The laconic detective has to contend with a complete lack of co-operation from his police colleagues and from the town’s residents, who view any form of authority with suspicion and utter disdain. It all leads to a closing shoot-out sequence that is, for once, realistic and which is beautifully filmed. Indeed, one of the film’s many strong points is its direction (by screenplay writer Ivan Sen). The cinematography (for which Sen is also responsible) is amazingly good – just about the best I have seen in any film. The cast too are terrific, particularly Pedersen and Hugo Weaving (who plays Johnno, a possibly corrupt white police colleague of Swan’s). The only aspect of the film about which I have reservations is the plot, which does not seem to me to hang together. I may have missed something but there appear to be unexplained gaps in parts of the story. Other than that, “Mystery Road”, which starts slowly before gradually building up to its dramatic conclusion, is an almost faultless film – and is certainly one that is worth looking out for. 8/10.

David and Margaret:

In the Australian film, MYSTERY ROAD, Jay Swan, AARON PEDERSEN, an aboriginal detective, has returned to his home town in the Outback after some time away in the city. The only indigenous member of a local force that includes commanding officer TONY BARRY and enigmatic HUGO WEAVING, Swan soon finds himself investigating a murder – the death of a young girl whose body is found beside the road. The investigation reveals a sinister underside to the community.

Ivan Sen’s outback thriller has a great deal going for it: spectacular widescreen photography, a very charismatic central performance, an intriguing plot that, in classic style, gradually reveals more and more layers that surround the murder investigation. There’s a superlative cast that includes DAVID FIELD as a local property owner, RYAN KWANTEN as a kangaroo shooter, JACK THOMPSON as a grizzled old timer, TASMA WALTON as Swan’s ex-wife, TRICIA WHITTON as his daughter and BRUCE SPENCE as the town coroner. Despite all these qualities, the film doesn’t quite soar; maybe Sen, who wrote it, photographed it, edited it AND composed the music, was too close to the material to see that there are some troubling confusions, that the screenplay doesn’t always join all the dots, that important questions remain unanswered. MYSTERY ROAD is, indeed, a bit of a mystery – but there are so many wonderful elements to the film that you wish the confusions had been ironed out more satisfactorily.

Further comments

DAVID: Margaret?
MARGARET: I know what you’re talking about but it didn’t worry me. I think Ivan Sen is really an artist filmmaker in this country.
DAVID: I wouldn’t dispute that.

See also Ivan Sen on Mystery Road: ‘Reality is much darker than this film’.

Second, a reminder about 88: Thursday 30 January on ABC1.

88

There they are passing Cleveland Street High School. I joined them at Central Station and marched with them to Hyde Park. One of the best things I ever did! Melinda Houston writes:

88
Thursday 8.32pm, ABC1

★★★★
This event may have received extensive media coverage at the time, and simply escaped my notice. I was around in 1988, but perhaps not paying close attention to current affairs. Or maybe until we actually hit Australia Day and the big bicentennial celebrations, no one paid it much attention. Regardless, it’s well worth a revisit to be reminded just how important the first, formalised Invasion Day protest was. This engaging doco opens with a fabulous montage of the late 1980s in Australia, perfectly evoking the big, bright (and big-haired) decade that was the backdrop for the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet. And if this hour lacks anything, it’s a similar kind of package reminding us of the state of Aboriginal affairs and indigenous lives at the same time. It’s always a little dangerous to assume your audience is already on your side, or accepts your received truths, and apart from anything else it would have given subsequent developments more power. But once this gains momentum, it’s captivating viewing. Initiated by a mild-mannered Uniting Church minister and inspired by a similar protest by Native Americans in the US, Australia’s indigenous communities across Australia decided to converge on Sydney, travelling under the banner “Hope Justice and Freedom”, to remind people – as their slogan went – that white Australia had a black history. Using interviews with key organisers and participants and marvellous archival footage of that stupendous road trip, this tells the story of, among other things, a quite incredible feat of organisation. People came from the Kimberley and the Top End through every state in Australia, representing every facet of indigenous life from academics and activists to traditional elders without a shred of English. The convoy received a coolish welcome in Sydney’s outer suburbs. But one of the most moving moments here is people recalling finally marching into Hyde Park to be greeted by thousands of whitefellas supporting their cause. It’s an inspiring story and an important social document, but also a sad reminder of how far we have to go.

I had met Kristina Nehm shortly before and recall a party at her place in Forest Lodge where I was privileged to have a songman from Mornington Island, down for the march, share a dreamtime story with me.

Third, the excellent series Persons of Interest concludes on Tuesday night with author Frank Hardy.

Frank Hardy’s 1950 novel Power Without Glory attracted a charge of criminal libel against the wife of underworld figure John Wren, but when a jury acquitted the author, the director-general of ASIO, Charles Spry, requested a list of the jurors and, should they have files, a summary “would also be appreciated”. Robert Menzies, as prime minister, requested security checks on applicants for literary grants.

A 1966 photograph shows Hardy staring into the lens at Sydney’s Mascot Airport, but he was oblivious to the photographer. ASIO took this frame using a “butter box”, a camera hidden in a briefcase. Hardy was greeting the Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and he would show him a good time in Sydney.

An ASIO agent followed them into the Chevron in Kings Cross where Rolf Harris invited the poet to join him on stage with Jan Rennison, a former Miss Australia and recent James Bond girl. Yevtushenko refused, declaring it beneath his dignity, particularly anything to do with Bond. But the ASIO agent recorded that Hardy, who drove Yevtushenko and Rennison to his Manly home, needed to physically restrain the poet from manhandling the beauty queen. She had spurned his advances and Yevtushenko had yelled: “You will not make love with the greatest poet in the world.” In the case officer’s assessment, the Russian was a “drunken, lecherous, conceited guttersnipe”.

“Typical night out with Frank Hardy,” says his granddaughter, the author Marieke Hardy, reading aloud from the ASIO file. She notes further gratuitous editorialising in an ASIO officer’s assessment that a 20-part television comedy, which the ABC commissioned Frank Hardy to write, would be a “flop”. The officer wrote that a “delicate source” had pointed out that Hardy was a close friend of Clement Semmler, the ABC’s assistant general manager, and said: “Quite apart from the fact that if Mr Hardy has any sense of humour, he is the only commo who has . . . ”

Alan Hardy, Frank’s son and Marieke’s father, watches himself as a teenager in an ASIO surveillance image of the May Day march in 1961…