Saturday, April 10, 2010

An Explanation and Three Films

A key staff member had to take unplanned leave just before semester started and we've struggled a bit delivering our new subjects. Productive work units get a lot of their dynamism from the positive emotional energy of staff. Even the most unhappy and dysfunctional workplace will have some rhetoric about team building. (Undoubtedly it's bound to be one of some team leader's key performance indicators.) So it's been hard - not just because there is more work for less people, but because we've lost a colleague and the inspiration they bring.

On a more upbeat note: it's been a good summer for films. The one I liked best was Rob Marshall's Nine but I saw three that have some relevance to Australian Indigenous Studies: Avatar, Bran Nue Dae, and Precious.

1. Major in its conception and execution.

2. The pseudo-problematic of the white ex-marine, Jake Sully, saving the Indigenous Na'vi is as boring as yesterday's newspapers. The Na'vi of course are cats and cats don't symbolise anything but cats. (One of the Na'vi warriors has part of his ear missing; presumably bitten off in a fight. Conclusive proof that they are cats.)

Bran Nue Dae.
1. It's been nice walking into mainstream cinemas and seeing Bran Nue Dae posters up alongside the standard Hollywood productions. One more sign of a small and productive shift in Settler Australia's perception of Indigenous Australia.

2. I enjoyed seeing some veteran performers again, as well as a new generation of Indigenous talent. I have however seen the original musical and it was impossible not to compare the film with the stage performance. The subtle wit of the musical has disappeared and the religious symbolism has been completely garbled. Catholicism and Evangelicalism are treated as though the differences are meaningless. In the musical the differences actually meant something. The closing scenes which are so powerful in the musical are oddly dissonant in the film - performers blithely singing about a 'magic night' in broad daylight.

1. I was worried about this film. It's a favourite of Barbara Bush; and some African American critics have attacked, what they saw, as demeaning portrayals of black American men and black urban life. Surprisingly I found the film moving even though there is a lot to take against if you are inclined.

2. Notwithstanding her appalling life, sixteen year old Precious dreams of future happiness and gives this symbolic form in the fantasies she concocts from popular culture. Like many American films it's absurdly gauche but actress Gabourey Sidibe establishes Precious' subjectivity in the first frames of the film and then establishes an almost hypnotic narrative.

3. It's a classic tale of an outsider's desire for a community, and a place, not just where they can be happy but where they can be known, in all that miraculous singularity we're condemned to.