I am in no way averse to a depressing motion picture, so off I duly trotted to Snowtown. However, I was quite taken aback on the morning I had my self-imposed appointment with the gloomy flick to discover that the weather was strangely springlike, as I’d been banking on seeing it on the kind of good old Melbourne autumn Sunday on which the city seemingly jumps into a time machine and slinks behind the Iron Curtain. Luckily for mood-setting purposes, filing-cabinet-grey skies and stinging rain did indeed develop in the course of the day. I was unsurprised to see, as I queued for a London-in-1945 length of time at the box office, that Snowtown was not on offer at the Gold Class and grateful that its makers had not given into the current mania for transforming every possible motion picture into a 3D experience. As the usher tore my ticket, he said, without apparent irony, ‘Enjoy the film.’ Well, the cinema was packed and I would observe only three audience members sprint to the exit, never to return.
I unexpectedly felt delight at seeing Barry Lane, one of the victims, make his entrance in Don Dunstan-style pink shorts but, other than that, Snowtown keeps firmly to the standard motifs in films about the Australian underclass. That is: ashtrays that are full to bursting; idle Hills Hoists that are, if possible, surrounded by garbage; the insistent sound of the tune the pokies sing; a broken fluorescent light; a quiz show playing on television, which indicates either the vast gap between the aspirational folk on said shows and the characters in the film, and/or the spiritual emptiness of contemporary society; the sound of a home-shopping television program, performing a function similar to the quiz shows, and that in Snowtown accompanies a spot of vigorous anal rape; youths sitting blank-faced in front of a television on which is playing the above-mentioned quiz shows or home shopping, and/or videogames; the eating of tinned spaghetti; the eating of other unpleasant-looking meals, often featuring a sandwich made from sliced white bread, or Chinese food that glistens with MSG; laminex kitchen tables, on which sit plastic containers of tomato and/or barbecue sauce; a dearth of beers that hail from microbreweries and an abundance of beers that do not; abandoned tyres; tyre swings, which presumably have been constructed from the abandoned tyres; non-Florence-Broadhurst-inspired wallpaper; fake wood panelling; net curtains; a broken banana lounge; a brown sofa with or without the stuffing emerging from it; a bong made out of a big plastic orange juice bottle; and tattoos that, I am certain, do not have the same provenance as, say, Marieke Hardy’s ‘body art’. By the end of all this, not to mention all the torture, I had more than the usual reluctance to swing down an almost ludicrously dismal local shortcut that features a train track, graffiti and large garbage bins. This pathway was at some stage hilariously christened ‘Lovers Walk’, even though Ian Brady and Myra Hindley are possibly the only couple in history to which it could appeal. However, I am in the fortunate position that if I want to avoid the horror of Lovers Walk, I can, which brings me precisely to my point.
As I say, I’ve never shied away from a film, Australian or otherwise, about unfortunate souls living a bleak urban existence: Idiot Box, with Ben Mendelsohn – or Mendo, as I like to call him – in a flannelette shirt and seeking opportunities to hit people in the face; The Boys, with David Wenham intoning ‘No one’s goin’ anywhere, swee-dart’; anything with Loene Carmen playing a junkie; and, the most recent example besides Snowtown, Animal Kingdom, once again featuring Mendo, who does not disappoint as he chucks his customary mentals. While these motion pictures have not always been easy to watch, I am confident that they will turn out to be more palatable than Baz Luhrmann’s flamboyant reimagining of The Great Gatsby. That doesn’t address the question, though, of why I go to see such movies. Well, I have to admit frankly that it is in part because, first, I will feel like Morgan Fairchild on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in comparison with the people on screen; and, second, that it is difficult not to luxuriate in entering into an unpleasant world and being able to get right the hell out of it. While I’m willing to admit that I may be the only individual who thinks this way, I frankly doubt that my mental processes are so blindingly original that this can really be the case. I would like very much to be able to claim that watching one of these films has ever made me do a damn thing for the impoverished but, beyond the fact that I gladly pay my taxes in the hope they will be put to some worthwhile purpose, it never has. This then raises the question for me of who these movies are really for and what their purpose truly is. The tragic people who are the subject of Snowtown, assuming they had ever been able to make an occasional visit to the multiplex, would, understandably, probably have wanted to kick back with Lethal Weapon IV, not another grey-tracksuit-pants tragedy.
Understand, however, that I’m not one of those who likes to pour scorn on Australian filmmakers for making sombre films and gloat that they are served right when no one goes to see their productions (though, as noted above, the session of Snowtown I attended was heaving) because they should really be making a lot more movies either about women who are bridesmaids and/or men who go away for a bucks night and generally act like total fuckwits. In fact, I rather admire the perverseness involved in the act of making yet another gloomy film, in the same way that you have to, on some level, hand it to someone who is capable of consuming a bottle of spirits a day. And, most of all, filmmakers must be permitted to make films about whatever they want to, surely. So, while I’m certainly not saying that a movie like Snowtown shouldn’t be made, I am less sure about why it should be made. Given that such works hardly function as entertainment, and given the viewer learns nothing much beyond the fact that some people lead terrible lives, which, I would hope, we all realised already, and given the likelihood that the films’ existence is going to do exactly nothing to prevent the kind of violent acts and misery that they represent occurring again, I wonder if there may yet prove to be more of a measurable point to the existence of upcoming Australian wogomedy Big Mamma’s Boy, a self-proclaimed ‘comedy about life, love and lasagna’, assuming that it succeeds in making even one human laugh.
Finally, it was my impression that Snowtown was yet another work with the lurking subtext that boys today are rudderless and angry due to the lack of father figures and having a clear-cut purpose in life (though the source of this anger mystifies me, considering not only that things are as reliably great for men as a sex as they’ve ever been but that, reportedly, boys these days get blow jobs in the course of a regular school day), which makes it all the more notable that I finished my Sunday by kicking back with the first episode of US telemovie The Kennedys. Being a veteran of biopics about the eminent clan, I knew I was in safe hands as soon as I heard such growled lines as ‘Kennedys never come second!’ and ‘This country is ours for the taking!’, not to mention the sight of much clutching of rosaries, and, of course, a scene with everyone merrily playing touch football, whatever that is. Well, aside from anything, The Kennedys certainly depicts the downside of having a strong father figure and a well-defined purpose in life, as befits a production that, the credits told me, was made in association with ‘Asylum Entertainment’.