Nice Coloured Girls (d. Tracey Moffatt, 1987)
Being an Australian, I get the overly zealous and politically correct take on aboriginal Australia practically rammed down my throat [by the media, mainly] a lot of the time [my cynical to reaction to this comes about not because I'm racist, but because I just happen to think that there are better ways to make a point than to resort to syrupy portrayals of aboriginal peoples that are ultimately irrelevant in their reliance on the idea of the so-called "noble savage"], and thus I wasn't expecting a whole lot from Tracey Moffatt's short experimental film, Nice Coloured Girls
(1987), when I saw it in my Australian Cinema class last week – or rather, I was expecting a lot of the same.
However, the film – which "audaciously explores the history of exploitation between white men and Aboriginal women
" – was really quite something, far and away more engaging and stylistically intriguing than I would have ever expected. The blatant artificiality of the "documentary"/narrative sequences; the subjective point-of-view shots; the scenes in the art gallery; the juxtaposition between the "silent voice" of the aboriginal women [subtitles] and the mannered readings from a white man's journal...it was all very overwhelming, and in a sixteen or seventeen minute short, as well.
And then, as though to prove that it wasn't a fluke, I felt exactly the same way [to a slightly lesser extent, perhaps] about the extract of Moffatt's 1989 film, Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy
, which we saw back-to-back with Nice Coloured Girls
[unfortunately though, we didn't see the whole thing] and which was a clever, cynical take on the "landmark" Australian feature film [it was this country's first in colour], Jedda
(d. Charles Chauvel, 1955), which I don't like at all.
And I couldn't help but wonder whether, maybe, the aforementioned "overly zealous and politically correct take on aboriginal Australia" was really just a white man's
overly zealous and politically correct take. Jedda
for example, in retrospect, is little more than an aging white man's romanticized and extremely melodramatic look at the aboriginal as a nomadic animal, of sorts, that cannot be tamed. Needless to say, the film hasn't aged well [hence my negative reaction to it].
That said, I'm a fan of both Rabbit-Proof Fence
(d. Phillip Noyce, 2002) and The Tracker
(d. Rolf de Heer, 2002), the directors of which are both aging white men, so maybe I'm wrong, and there you go. But, you know, even then, maybe I'm not. Their films are, after all, still sort of on the outside of aboriginal society looking in, usually by way of a white character – even though, of course, A. O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) in Fence
is the "bad guy," he's also the audience's [and Noyce's] representative in the film, and his "bad guy" status is very much supposed to shift the guilt that he should feel [but doesn't]on to us in the "now".
So, what's most interesting for me, then, about Tracey Moffatt's work [or what I've seen of it], is the fact that it provides that rare "insider's" take on aboriginal Australia that we don't normally get in this country –at least, that we don't usually get in the cinema. [Of course, visual art and painting might perhaps be a different story; I just wouldn't know. I'm not a visual art aficionado at the best of times and especially not in regards to Australian artists].
Anyways, now I'm thinking that I should track down some of Moffatt's other work [not to mention some of her still photography and painting], because I'm really intrigued by what I've seen so far, and intriguement [which isn't a word] is usually a good place to start...
Jedda (d. Charles Chaveul, 1955) * ½
Nice Coloured Girls (d. Tracey Moffatt, 1987) ****
Rabbit-Proof Fence (d. Phillip Noyce, 2002) *** ½
The Tracker (d. Rolf de Heer, 2002) *** ½
[By the way, just a quick thanks to the members of Milk Plus for inviting to be the blog's first regular
Australian contributor. I'll try to write at least once a week as, believe you me, I want to earn my keep. To be honest, I'm just flattered to be in such good company...!]