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Film Criticism as Cultural Fantasy

The Perpetual French Discovery of Australian Cinema


Andrew McGregor

This book presents an unprecedented analysis of the dynamics of cultural representation and interpretation in film criticism. It examines how French critical reception of Australian cinema since the revival period of the 1970s has evolved as a narrative of perpetual discovery, and how a clear parallel can be drawn between French critics’ reading of Australian film and their interpretation of an exotic Australian national identity. In French critical writing on Australian cinema, Australian identity is frequently defined in terms of extremes of cultural specificity and cultural anonymity. On the one hand, French critics construct a Euro-centric orientalist fantasy of Australia as not only a European Antipodes, but the antithesis of Europe. At the same time, French critics have tended to subordinate Australian cultural identity within the framework of a resented Anglo-American filmic and cultural hegemony. The book further explores this marginalisation by examining the influence of the French auteur paradigm, particularly in reference to the work of Jane Campion, as well as by discussing the increasingly problematic notion of national identity, and indeed national cinemas, within the universal framework of international film culture.


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2. In the Beginning 25


25 2. In the Beginning The Australian Cinema Industry from the Cinématographe to the Revival It is indeed noteworthy, in the context of this analysis, that the history of Australian cinema began with the arrival in Australia of a Frenchman. In 1896, Marius Sestier, a friend of Auguste Lumière, first presented the Lumière brothers’ dramatic new technological marvel, the cinématographe, in Sydney on 26 Sep- tember 1896, and then in Melbourne on 4 November the same year.1 Regardless of the debate surrounding the origins of the technology of cinema, given that there is general consensus that the invention of the cinématographe occurred around mid-1895, the rapidity of its export to Australia was remarkable. Equally rapid was the deployment of the new technology in Australia. Film production began immediately after the arrival of the cinématographe in 1896. The first films to be produced con- sisted mainly of short, unedited documentary style footage of events and scenes such as the horse races in Melbourne, the ferry at Manly and the wharves in Brisbane.2 These films were intended to demonstrate the novelty of moving images as a new technology. Right from the beginnings of the fledgling industry in Australia, some of these early films were exported to major cities and countries overseas, including Sestier’s work, which, following the pattern the Lumière brothers imposed on their operators, was shipped back to France for local entertainment. Perhaps the most significant milestone in the early days of Australian cinema...

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