Saturday, 14 June 2008

Aussie Movies make you "Think too much"?

Image borrowed from the BBC Hitchhiker's page.

I was traveling around a bit on the train and usually avoid picking up the MX (Public Transport newspaper they leave scattered all over the trains) as I have Internet on my phone, a book (Uncollected works of Dorothy Parker), and my MP3 player to keep me well entertained on train, tram and bus journeys, not to mention my thoughts which are nourishing most of the time. The real reason I don't like reading the MX is because it means I have to "think too less".

However, this one train journey I picked up an MX and flicking through it found an article on a survey conducted on why Australians don't flock to see Australian films. The primary answer was because Australian films cause people to "think too much", and the preference for American cinema is because people don't have to "pay attention". May I begin this post with a a few lines from Douglas Adam's "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" ...

"If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months' consideration and observation he abandonded this theory in favor of a new one. If they don't keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working."

I completely understand the need and also the want to "escape" to the cinema, that is what one of its most magnificent purposes is, of course, also as with any art, escapism is also a way of thinking without strings attached - or to use a Bernard Shaw approach, in order to get people thinking, Bernard knew that to make them laugh would mean they were thinking without even knowing it.

To say that Australian films ask a person to "think too much" says a lot about the attitude we have about intelligence or rather knowledge. Look at most Australian cinema and I would say it doesn't really ask a person to "think at all", I was trying to remember any Australian film I have seen where I felt it was asking of me too much by way of thought. This isn't Russian or Eastern European cinema, our films are "light entertainment" with a social prerogative. To counterbalance the "think too much" comment with "not pay any attention" makes for even more absurdity - what on earth are people doing in cinemas then? Picking fluff out of their belly-buttons? Reading magazines? Sleeping? I don't know but it is rather an insult to most filmmakers, and I dare say how would you feel if I said, "Hey I liked your film because I didn't have to pay any attention to it. Indeed I had no idea what I was watching, all I knew was that I was sitting there, there were people around me, and in this darkness something was happening on a bright screen in front of us".

The problem here is I know what people are trying to say, it isn't that they don't want to "think too much" or they'd rather "not pay attention", what they want is escapism, and yes, Australian films on the whole are inescapable because on the whole most Australian films need to be self-assessment texts about ourselves, our identity, what it means to be Australian. Yes, tiresome as it seems, we have been using cinema and other art forms for the last one hundred years to address this issue with very limited relief from it. We sit in our theatres and mentally do a SWOT test every time, without being afforded the wonderment of surprise which is the essential key to any form of expression, if you want to capture the audience's imagination.

If you want to make a film with a social message then one or two lines are enough, maybe a monologue or two, we all know it works that way. Look at any Hollywood film of the 1940s, working hand in hand with the Government, film studios were able to successfully deliver propaganda under the guise of "hilarious romps" or "action packed adventure" without having the audience "think too much". The difference with Australian films is having to go over the same point, over and over again until the credits role.

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