War on Everyone opens with two corrupt cops running down a mime with their car. It was therefore difficult for me not to enjoy this movie. That is definitely my jam. It also helps that the film is extremely beautiful, an aesthetic that feels 1970s while the characters talk about XBoxes. The performances are flawless — even Theo James shines (which is why it took me ages to realise he was the plank of wood from the woeful Divergent series).
The script, on the other hand, does not match the film. It is hideously inconsistent. When it is bad, it is tone deaf and in poor taste, confusing being simply politically ‘incorrect’ with being funny. The worst of it is a transphobic piece which neither advances the plot, and feels wildly out of place. It’s not clever or intelligent, and yet the vast majority of this film is both.
The problems with the script have knock on affects for the rest of the film. At times, it feels like a parody of a bad cop film. At other times (aided by the 1970s aesthetic), it feels like a homage. But it never feels simultaneously like both, and it never feels consistently like either. The result is awkward and confused.
About a quarter of the way through the film, I wondered when I last saw an Australian film at the cinema that wasn’t part of a festival or event. I had seen lots of films made with Australian money. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen some blockbuster film only to see Film Victoria or Screen Australia at the end of the credits. But when did I last see an Australian film at the cinema?
Come to think of it, when was the last time I saw an Australian film advertised at my local cinema? Some nonsense about a dog, I think. Or maybe it was a Blinky Bill film?
Meanwhile, I’ve got a list of Chinese films I’m looking forward to seeing. And some great European films are on their way to Australia. And, holy crap, the new Star Wars film looks like it’s going to be so good.
It seems weird that we consume so little Australian content. The point of pop culture is to integrate cultural norms. It is through performance that we learn identity and develop our social expectations of others. Why, then, is it easier for me to list a bunch of upcoming Chinese films than it is for me to name any upcoming Australian films?
There has been a lot of discussion about the ABC recently. There’s the usual mayonnaise on white bread criticism from mainstream right wing punditry that the ABC isn’t vulgar enough for their barbarian pseudo-tastes. ‘Boohoo, the ABC isn’t airing my kind of imbecility!’ But there’s been a recent discussion about how the ABC presents Indigenous Australia, kicked off by Noel Pearson. And former Prime Minister and notorious loose unit, Paul Keating, has argued that the ABC is failing Australians. And then there’s the recent vandalism of Radio National.
What all of these discussions have in common (even the troglodyte nonsense from News Corp, Quadrant, and Spectator) is an unexpressed intuition of what the ABC should be and do. There’s handwaving about ‘diversity’ — no, the ABC does not need more conservatives — but no sustained engagement with what that actually means in practice.
Let’s face it. The majority of Australians do not listen to the Radio National programmes that were cut. How effectively does Radio National contribute to Australian culture if there’s minimal impact outside of the mediasphere?
But, to return to the argument of this post, shouldn’t the ABC also be the vehicle for the creation of cultural content that gets broad distribution?
I’m reading The BBC: The Myth of a Public Service by Tom Mills. The BBC, in many ways, is what the ABC should aspire to be. It represents the British identity both to Britons and to the rest of the world. It espouses a very clear set of values which it broadcasts to every corner of the globe. This is also what makes the BBC problematic. The BBC is run by extremely powerful elites and (as Mills documents) has a complex relationship with the government.
It is not merely the difference in funding which separates the BBC from the ABC. It is a difference in philosophy. The ABC is, in many ways, much more awkward than the BBC. It is far more timid. It takes very few risks, preferring to target low-hanging fruit for fear of being asked to justify its funding.
And that’s why we were treated to the abysmal Wharf Revue nonsense at the end of Q&A last week. And why the comedy offerings are usually watered down clones of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and the latest sclerotic production from The Chaser. It’s ‘risky’ and ‘edgy’ content is stuff that we’ve already seen before… but blander.
The ABC appears to hate everybody under 40. If you’re too young for the D-Generation, you’re too young from the ABC.
While watching War on Everyone, I wondered why I wasn’t watching an Australian version of this on the ABC. Not this specific film, but this sort of film. We routinely talk about the need for arts infrastructure in Australia — stages, venues, studios, theatres — but why aren’t we using the infrastructure we’ve got better?