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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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8. Kitsch Stylisation 215


215 8. Kitsch Stylisation The French Critical Reception of Australian Cinema 1990-1994 The emergence of Jane Campion as a master filmmaker went some way towards redressing the imbalance created by the sys- tematic departure of Australia’s internationally recognised di- rectors for Hollywood. The first half of the 1990s would see a reduction in the overall number of Australian films produced, compared with the second half of the 1980s.1 The departure of the ‘old school’ of the Australian filmmak- ing of the revival period – and with it the focus on telling stories of epic national, and particularly historical, significance – ush- ered in a period of new vitality in Australian filmmaking. Pro- duction was largely left in the hands of a proliferation of tal- ented young first-time directors, who shared a common appreciation for the aesthetic of kitsch stylisation that character- ised the popular image of Australian filmmaking in the 1990s. * * * In his 1988 film Ghosts of the Civil Dead, released in France on 2 May 1990, John Hillcoat offers a disturbingly bleak vision of life and death in a modern, privately run, high-security and high- tech prison, based on privatised models operating in Australia and the USA at the time of the film’s production. The extreme 1 The average number of films produced in Australia per year fell from 33.4 during 1985-1989 to 25.2 during 1990-1994. Source: Screen Australia, ‘Number and proportion of Australian and co-production feature films produced 1980/81–2006/07 released in cinemas in Australia, the UK and the US...

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