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Australian New Wave stands out in cinema history


     In the 1970s, a new era of cinema began. With the international commercial success of Stork (1971), a period known as the Australian New Wave was kicked off and quickly brought the Australian film industry back into the mainstream after a lengthy period of relative obscurity. The Australian New Wave, which lasted from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, was marked by its prominent use and highlighting of Australian culture, the Outback’s gorgeous nature, unconventional filming techniques, mysticism and a unique subgenre known as Ozploitation, which was characterized by its exploitation of Aboriginal (native Australian) culture. Films in this movement often explored themes such as white outsiders facing the harsh, brutal realities of the Australian wilderness and the collision of modern and traditional societies.

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Graphic by William Becker

     Though dozens of unique films were brought to life during this time period by directors such as Nicolas Roeg, Peter Weir and George Miller, there are several in particular that I would like to discuss individually, as they left a lasting impression on me.

     Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), often considered one of the most prominent examples of this era, happens to also be one of my favorite movies. The film, originally adapted from Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel of the same name, follows the disappearance of several girls from an Australian college while on a Valentine’s Day picnic to Hanging Rock in 1900. While the central mystery carries a fair amount of intrigue on its own, the film’s narrative and cinematography greatly overshadow it in my opinion. Carrying heavy elements of mysticism, escaping repression and grief, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a film that certainly leaves a mark on its viewers, whether they enjoy it or not.

     The Mad Max franchise, also a prominent example of New Wave cinema, is likely the most well-known name to American audiences. The dystopian action franchise, which put actor Mel Gibson on the metaphorical map, follows the titular Max Rockatansky and his journeys through the crumbling remnants of Australian civilization, which is now mostly ruled by biker gangs and outlaws. Though highly brutal and often emotional, the franchise was highly acclaimed by international audiences and remains one of the most beloved film series of all time. Though neither of the first two films that I’ve seen are on my list of favorites, they are definitely perfect for any time you’re in need of excitement or a movie to get you moving.

     In an article that includes the topic of Aboriginal culture in Australian cinema, it would be a crime to not include Roeg’s Walkabout (1971). The film follows a young brother and sister who, after their father drives them deep into the Outback and attempts to kill them, are left to fend for themselves. During their lengthy journey back to civilization, they meet an Aboriginal boy on his walkabout (a rite of passage where adolescent boys live on their own in the wilderness for a period of time) who helps them survive. Though graphic and unsettling at times (fair warning: live kangaroos are killed onscreen), Walkabout is a beautiful and unforgettable exploration of the permanence and beauty of nature and its incompatibility with the sharp corners and strict rules of modern society.

     Finally, no discussion of Australian cinema would be complete without Peter Faiman’s comedy Crocodile Dundee (1986). The film follows American reporter Sue Charlton who travels to rural Australia to meet a local legend and crocodile hunter known as “Crocodile” Dundee. Despite their wildly differing backgrounds and experiences, a romance slowly develops between the two. As the most successful Australian film of all time, Crocodile Dundee was a roaring success across the entire planet, and is a must-watch for any movie lover. Its endearing characters, sweet love story and exceptional comedy all make for a wonderfully happy viewing experience.

     Though spacing constraints must unfortunately end my article here, there is still much more of New Wave cinema to explore. For any curious movie lovers out there, I would also recommend Wake in Fright (1971), The Last Wave (1977), Gallipoli (1981) and Fortress (1985). If you’re up for a cinematic adventure, the Australian New Wave is a perfect period of cinema to sit down on the couch with and explore for a weekend.

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