Epsilon is incredible. On the one hand it’s an insult to the science fiction genre, limp unimaginative and cringe inducing, yet on the other it’s such a freak oddity that it will make your brain melt. As part of the 6 disc Rolf De Heer Collection (Umbrella), which encompasses his first six films, it combines some extraordinary images of sped up humanity, not unlike koyaanisqatsi, then jams it kicking and screaming into a ridiculous narrative about a superior (female) being (with a broad aussie accent) arriving on earth, encountering a good natured ocker outback bloke and debating the horrors of humanity before falling in love. It’s stilted cringe inducing death on celluloid. De Heer puts the duo in matching shirts and shoots it like it’s Neighbours. It makes you wonder how he could have been responsible for the dark wit of Bad Boy Bubby two years earlier, or even the understated beauty of Dingo (1991), which stars jazz legend Miles Davis, who you’d be positive hadn’t seen De Heer’s previous film when he signed on, the woeful 1987 outback horror Incident At Raven’s Gate. The only horror here is that they gave him money to make other films after this turkey. Yet that’s De Heer in a nutshell: hit and interesting miss.
Wake in Fright (Madman) is a film about assimilation whether you like it or not. It’s Lost Weekend by way of Deliverance, except in the Australian outback the evil yokels don’t play banjo and make you squeal like a pig, no it’s much worse than that, they get you shit-faced and take you roo shooting. The residents of Bundanyabba are grinding down English primary teacher John Grant with bogan redneck Aussie hospitality, until he loses not only his smug superiority, but everything else he thought he stood for, descending into alcohol fueled oblivion. This is outback horror, the residents of ‘the Yabba,’ the equivalent of zombies clawing at Grant, trying to make him one of them. Made in 1971 it’s one of the most vicious and confronting Australian films around. The words “Is this your first time in the Yabba? So how’dya like the Yabba?” will chill your blood.
Samson and Delilah (Madman) is a love story without words. In the extras writer/director/cinematographer Warwick Thornton suggests at 14 he didn’t have Hannah Montana‘s monologues, he threw stones at girls. It’s bleak, austere and set in an Aboriginal community in central Australia, not pulling any punches, particularly in terms of petrol sniffing. But it’s a different kind of love, one that is faced with much more difficult, gritty and harsh obstacles than your normal cinema affords. It’s a two disc set, the second features Thornton’s previous shorts and a great behind the scenes feature with the actor playing Samson participating in a diversionary youth justice group conference apologising for a burglary he committed a year earlier. Believe the hype.
He Ran All the Way is a classy 1951 noir that transcends the premise of a killer holed up with an innocent family and becomes a fascinating rumination on family and trust. It was a film tainted by the House Un American witch hunt in the 50’s. Soon after the director John Berry fled to France, it was star John Garfield‘s last film dying at the age of 39 after much harassment from Mcarthy, and it was written by Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus) under an alias, in jail at the time of release for refusing to name names. It’s part of an excellent four disc box set MGM Film Noir (Aztec) that also includes Orson Welles patchy yet still compelling The Stranger with Edward G Robinson, Robert Wise‘s classy heist gone wrong Odds Against Tomorrow with Shelly Winters, and hard man Robert Ryan, as well as the inspiration for Dragnet, He Walked by Night.
Bastardy (Siren) is a portrait of the complexity of Melbourne’s Jack Charles, actor, musician, heroin addict, homeless, thief, criminal, and member of the stolen generation amongst other things. He begins by shooting up, saying “If I hide anything it wouldn’t be a true depiction.” And what we get is the charm and ravaged potential of a man who justifies burglaries in Kew as ‘hunting and gathering on prime Aboriginal land’ starred in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and has battled drug addiction for thirty odd years. Seven years in the making, this is raw unflinching intimacy.