Winkler's 'Chants' (1975)

Within 1973-1983, there are more direct explorations into indigenous Australia's religious beliefs, while the Christian faith is commonly associated with disillusionment, rigidity, ridicule, and even contempt. Fred Schepsi's autobographical Devil's Playground, is a good example of this.

(1974) Tim Burstall [107mins]
Not much in this film would rate as religious, however there is one scene where Peterson (Jack Thompson) 'confronts his minister father, imposing in his pulpit, photographed as standing over his son, and argues about morality, values and God.'(1)

(1975) Paul Winkler [15mins, experimental]
Winkler says, 'I came across these Coptic crosses in a Greek souvenir shop, and at the time I also heard some Gregorian chants...I thought these cheap plastic crosses looked really beautiful...and I shot them against black velvet so that they appear to float, emanating something, in a deep space...kind of heavenly images. Nothing much's really a meditation.'(2)

Down the Wind*
(1975) Kim McKenzie, Scott McKenzie [64mins]
'A young photographer reluctantly accepts an assignment to shoot backgrounds for a fashion display which takes him to the Snowy Mountains. He becomes obsessed with pursuing a wild falcon through the snow country, seemingly in a quest for self-fulfilment.'(3)

The Golden Cage*
(1975) Ayten Kuyululu [70mins]
Tracing the lives of two Turkish migrants in Australia; Murat and Ayhen. Murat works hard to save money for a truck, Ayhen has a affair with an Australian girl - Sarah - and wants to marry her, 'but his family oppose the idea because he is a Muslim and she is an 'infidel'. Sarah refuses to give up her own religion for his and they gradually grow apart.' However, when Ayhen discovers Sarah is pregnant, he insists that she marry him.(4)

Mystical Rose
(1975) Michael Lee [ 65mins, experimental animation]
A collection of images, a visual explosion of suggestions of spiritual disillusionment and anger at the [Catholic] church.(5) "The Mystical Rose expresses the confused dissolute narcissism of my youth" - Michael Lee.(6)

Picnic at Hanging Rock*
(1975) Peter Weir [115mins]
'A tale of mystery and menace in a sunny Australian landscape', Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fictitious story (written by author Joan Lindsay) about a group of 'late-Victorian schoolgirls and a teacher who vanish while exploring the volcanic outcrop of Hanging Rock'. Once released in August 1975 it quickly became a hit with Australian audiences, marking a 'commercial and critical landmark' in Australian filmmaking. In May of the following year it won 'international critical acclaim at Cannes' and since has become part of Australian film legend. With the ability to inspire religious awe for the mystery and power of the Australian landscape, this film 'alienates some and hypnotically absorbs others'. There are elements of religious symbolism & Christian tradition, such as scars that mysteriously appear on some of the characters' foreheads and the singing of the hymn "Rock of Ages". Worth noting is the director's interesting play on time. We hear sounds of the search for the girls before they are lost. At the time of its release, both Weir and Lindsay sought to convince the public 'that the disappearance had actually happened.'(7) And even now there are some who say that it really did!

Solo Flight*
(1975) Ian Mills [75mins]
'A housewife, alienated from her husband and her dull suburban existence, starts to take flying lessons, and briefly faces the possibility of an affair with a young man from the flying club. At the same time she dreams of an idyllic Eden where she and her friends live in harmony with nature and with each other. As she takes her first solo-flight and soars high into the air she is transformed in her mind and liberated into another dimension of life.'(8)

The Devil's Playground
(1976) Fred Schepisi [M: 98mins]
Set in the 1950's, The Devil's Playground is 'a film told in a semi-autobiographical style about young boys at a Roman Catholic boarding school reacting in different ways to puberty and their sexuality, and to their schoolmasters and priests.'(9)
'The effect of rigid discipline, sanctioned by religious authority, is observed both on the boys, in their tortuous adjustments to puberty, and on the brothers of the teaching order, some of whom have yet to accept their physical and emotional inability to live up to the absolute strictures of their order.
Much of the screenplay was autobiographical, based on Schepisi's own Catholic upbringing and the time he spent in a Catholic seminary college in his early teens.'(10)

(1976) Paul Cox [74mins] '
'When her father dies, a young woman becomes preoccupied with death and "the infinite". During a visit to the country she attempts to kill herself, but recovers to experience a regeneration of her love for life. She also starts to share a more alert and sensitive relationship with her lover, and their relationship is enriched by their growing self-knowledge and freedom from conventional anxieties about life and death.
Illuminations was the culmination of a large body of metaphysical cinema produced over the preceding decade by Paul Cox.'(11)

Lailai Dreamtime
(1976) Michael Edols [57 mins] '
'Lailai Dreamtime is a reconstruction of the traditional way of Aboriginal life - in particular, the transmission of knowledge and culture from one generation to the next. An old man takes his son to a sacred place to explain about their ancestors - the Wandjinas - the ancient creators whose presence is real in the painted imprints of cave walls and in the shape of specific land formations.'(12) An award winning film which highlights the fundamental spiritual connection between Aboriginal people and their land.

Red Church
(1976) Paul Winkler [17mins, experimental]
Images of the stained glass windows in St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. Photographing and rephotographing a slide of the interior almost 200 times, Winkler says, 'I was able to give the feeling of looking up...which is what you do in a church...from the knave up to the stained glass up to the ceiling...up to heaven in this red light.'(13)

Storm Boy*
(1976) Henry Safran [87mins]
The coming together of black and white cultures, young Mike (Greg Rowe) lives with his father near a coastal bird sanctuary; also the camp of Fingerbone Bill (David Gulpilil) an Aboriginal youth who 'teaches [Mike] about the land, the sea and the Aboriginal people.' Based on the novel by Colin Thiele, Storm Boy's 'narrative simplicity and healthy respect for the natural environment were retained in the film. [It is] a romantic portrait of a boy growing up close to nature and isolated from the disciplines and disillusionments of more conventional childhoods.'(14)

The Getting of Wisdom
(1977) Bruce Beresford [100mins]
Laura is sent from her coastal country home to a Presbyterian Ladies College at the end of the nineteenth century. Reverend Strachey (Barry Humphries) and Reverend Shepard (John Waters) are harsh religious representatives - 'do nothing for the church except seem to make it repellent'. 'Reverend Strachey is shown in the pulpit as the embodiment of religion, quoting scripture but imposing his religion as official. [His] speech at the expulsion of a student...for stealing...[is] cruel and merciless'. Reverend Shepard is, ' boorish, a tyrant, terrorising his wife and pampered by his sister, a man of privilege acting like a spoilt boy'.(15) 'Laura actually rejects God, saying she could not go on loving and worshipping a God who was capable of such double-dealing; who could behave in such a "mean fashion".(16)

The Last Wave
(1977) Peter Weir [106mins]
In this film, 'two contemporary issues forced their way into our consciousness through all the teasing mystery - the place of Aboriginal culture in a materialistic, rationalist, Christian culture, and the uneasy sense...of a physical and spiritual environment violated by that materialist, rationalist white culture.'(17) 'David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), a corporate taxation lawyer'is approached by a friend working in Legal Aid to take on the defence of five Aboriginal men...accused of murdering a fellow Aborigine. As the plot unfolds we realise that the killing was in fact, a result of a breaking of a tribal lore/law. David [becomes] caught discovering the Aboriginal knowledge that led to the victims' death. In his endeavour to learn the 'truth', [David] sacrifices his family, his home and, finally, his identity.'(18) Weir consulted with Groote Eylandt tribal elder Nandjiwara ('Charlie' in the film, alongside David Gulpilil as 'Chris') to create a mythical religious tradition specifically for the film, as he was told that it would be an unacceptable violation of Aboriginal secrecy to dramatise tribal lore. Religious themes are explored throughout, most obviously through the contrast of David's stepfather, a sceptical minister who consistently tries to explain away the mystery of Aboriginal religious traditions. 'This criticism of Christianity, which after all has Scriptures filled with significant dreamers and a highlighting of the inadequacy of so much of Australian Christianity in the face of the Aboriginal people's religious experience.(19)

The Mango Tree*
(1977) Kevin Dobson [104mins]
In particular focus here is Preacher Jones (Gerard Kennedy), 'the fierce fundamentalist whose religious zeal tips over into madness and even into 'righteous' violence.'(20). Set in northern Queensland this film explores the emotional turmoil of an adolescent - Jamie (Christopher Pate) - growing to maturity on his grandmother's property at the end of World War 1. 'With wide-eyed enthusiasm, Jamie learns about life from a gallery of characters around him.'(21)

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
(1978) Fred Schepisi [M,120mins]
A powerful film set in New South Wales around 1900 which confronts the racial situation of the time from the perspective of a young Aboriginal man named Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis), his religious education being a mix of both tribal traditional and Methodist mission 'Sunday school' Christianity. 'From the prologue with its contrast and parallel of Jimmie's [tribal] initiation and [Methodist minister] Mr Neville's (Jack Thompson) exhortatory Christianity to the climax of Jimmie's arrest while sheltering in a convent, the indigenous vigour of tribal rites and lore is contrasted with the superficial Christianity which merely gave a good name and a justification to white attitudes.'(22)

Little Boy Lost*
(1978) Terry Bourke [G, 90mins]
About a young boy lost in the outback, and the people who search for him. Two recurring motifs in this film are an eagle and religion. looked at through a cynical eye. When Canon Pritchard visits the boy's mother, his bland dialogue is not reassuring in the circumstances: 'Stephen could be with our heavenly father', 'I notice you havn't wept, I think you should'; and 'It's God's will'. Shots of the country folk praying and exercising faith are juxtaposed with Pritchard's pre-empting death of the boy.(23)

Robin Campbell - Old Fella Now
(1979) Alec Morgan [25 mins, documentary]
'Robin Campbell, an old man of the Murrawarri Tribe of the far north-west of NSW...recalls through dramatic re-enactments by his young relations how he was taught as a child to live in the bush. [This film] emphasises Robin's special relationship to the land of his birth. Black land was his learning place, Black land the source of food, work, songs, laughter and mysteries.'(24)

Norman Loves Rose
(1982) Henri Saffran [M, 98mins]
'A lightweight Jewish sex comedy about Norman, a sexually precocious Bar Mitzvah boy who falls in love with his sister-in-law Rose. The farce, which turns upon Michael [his brother] being unable to make Rose pregnant, and Norman deciding that according to Jewish law he has a duty to oblige, ends happily enough' but a closer 'reading' reveals that the family's bizarre and dysfunctional behaviour can be attributed to the Holocaust.'(25)

Tracks of the Rainbow
(1982) George Gittoes [48 & 58 mins (two versions) documentary]
'The Dreamtime of Aboriginal culture is all time, all of the past and the present, the source of all things - existing in the spirit of the land, the people and the animals. Tracks of the Rainbow charts the journey of six young Aboriginals in search of the tracks of their Aboriginal traditions with the Dreamtime Rainbow Serpent as their 'symbolic' guide.'(26)

With Prejudice*
(1982) Esben Storm [M, 72mins]
Made for television but gaining theatrical release, With Prejudice is a dramatisation of the 1979 trial which unfairly jailed three men; 'Paul Alister, Timothy Anderson and Ross Dunn for cospiracy to murder Robert Campbell, leader of the National Alliance. The accused were all members of the Ananda Marga [religion], which the press and the judicial system successfully portrayed as a fanatical religious cult bent on violent revolution. With Prejudice has many parallels with Evil Angels (1988): both examine serious failings of the judicial system catalysed by public and media distrust of religious 'cults'' [read groups].(27)

(1983) Richard Lowenstein [M, 101mins]
A film 'set on the South Gippsland coalfields in the 1930's, it tells the story of the Labor movement at the time, particularly as seen in the lives of Wattie Doig (Chris Haywood) and his wife, Agnes (Carol Burns)... [who] had been a member of the Presbyterian Church...[but has now become] a Salvationist, complete with wide brimmed bonnet, a timbrel in hand and a hallelujah at the ready. Wattie is not a Salvationist. He is a Communist.' According to Brad Halse, 'the Salvation Army is seen as being, on the one hand, out of touch, a haven for those who are looking for the better life but are not prepared to fight for it; and on the other as comprising a body of men and women who are courageous, compassionate and resourceful.'(28)

(1983) Michael Lee [60 mins, experimental animation]
Shot predominantly in the desert, 'a symbolic location for spiritual change'(29), Turnaround 'illustrates the search for a centre or foundation.'(30)

1) Peter Malone, "Churches In and Out of the Mainstream" in From Back Pews to Front Stalls - the Churches in 100 years of Australian cinema. Peter Malone (ed.) National Capital Printing: Fyshwick. 1996 pp. 48
2) Paul Winkler, Paul Winkler Films 1964-94. Museum of Contemporary Art: Sydney. 1995 pp. 34
3) Deb Verhoeven (ed.), Twin Peeks, Australian and New Zealand feature films. Damned Publishing: Melbourne 1999 pp. 294
4) Andrew Pike & Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900-1977 - A guide to feature film production. Oxford University Press: Melbourne. 1981. pp. 369
5) Peter Malone, "Catholics - Faithful, Lapsed and Hostile", Malone (ed.), ibid. (1996:26)
6) Michael Lee, "A Contemplation of the Cross - the intentions of the filmmaker", from Bill Mousoulis, Melbourne Independent Filmmakers - a web resource. 2003
7) Pike & Cooper. ibid (1981:367-368)
8) Pike & Cooper. ibid (1981:372)
9) Verhoeven. ibid (1999:287)
10) Pike & Cooper. ibid (1981:383)
11) Pike & Cooper. ibid (1981:378)
12) Victoria Treole (ed.) Australian Independent Film - Sydney CDB. Southwood Press: Marrickville 1982 pp. 28
13) Winkler. ibid (1995:39)
14) Pike & Cooper. ibid (1981:386)
15) Peter Malone, "Churches In and Out of the Mainstream". Malone (ed.), ibid (1996:49-50)
16) George Fisher, "The Presence - or the Absence - of the Anglican Church". Malone (ed.), ibid (1996:11)
17) Cinema Papers 15 (1978:259) quoted in Malone (1987:105)
18) Lynley King, Assignment 2: The Last Wave - Synopsis. 2002
19) Malone (1987:108)
20) Peter Malone, "Churches In and Out of the Mainstream". Malone (ed.), ibid (1996:53)
21) Pike & Cooper. ibid (1981:403)
22) Malone (1987:48)
Suzanne Brown in Australian Film 1978-1994 Murray (ed.) 1995
24) Treole. ibid (1982:40)
25) Jan Epstein, "Jewish repres
entation in Australian films" Malone (ed.), ibid (1996:62)
26) Treole. ibid (1982:40)
27) Scott Murray (ed.) Australian Film 1978-1994: A Survey of Theatrical Features. Melbourne: Oxford U P in association with the Australian Film Commission and Cinema Papers. (1995:116)

28) Brad Halse, "Images of the Salvation Army". Malone (ed.) ibid (1996:30)
29) Peter Malone, "Catholics - Faithful, Lapsed and Hostile". Malone (ed.) ibid (1996:26)
30) Michael Lee, "A Contemplation of the Cross - the intentions of the filmmaker", from Bill Mousoulis, Melbourne Independent Filmmakers - a web resource. 2003