I have now had the chance to read in it’s entirety Louis Nowra’s essay on the Australian film industry in The Monthly. It seems our eminent playwright is concerned about the commercial success of local films: “Australian’s don’t like seeing their own movies” and apparently filmmakers are too “arrogant” to make more engaging, entertaining films to attract audiences. The problem is, of course, that Australian movies are based on “social realism and naturalism”; our actors are treated like “clapped-out Holdens” with unflattering lighting; the films are “asexual”, “bleak” and “all about men”. Audiences want Hollywood. “Hollywood epitomises illusion and dreams”; it has “heroes” and “happy endings”. And financial success. But isn’t that the eternal struggle of art? Nowra concedes that many Australian films exhibit stunning cinematography. And we have a vast crop of fine actors. But while Nowra reels off a list of themes he dismisses as “dispiriting” such as paedophilia, violence, drugs, alcohol abuse, poverty and – shock, horror – marriage breakdown, they are indeed a reality of contemporary society. And although the bleakness and realism of these films may confront their audience, I would argue that it is the confronting that can be the most engaging. This is certainly the case for other art forms.
Nowra’s frustrations do not reflect the quality of the films as much as their ‘pulling power’. But while Nowra may feel that his cinematic experience is undermined by a largely empty theatre – yes, rustling chip packets do enhance a movie – I have to agree with Margaret Pomeranz: “I think Australian audiences are bloody lazy. These are very good films, really good films, and if Australian audiences don’t want to go and see them, stuff them”. Indeed. If filmmakers are content to produce commercially unviable, but artistically superior pieces of film, who are audiences to argue? And for those who prefer to see “beautiful, fascinating creatures on the screen”, their “imperfections hidden by sympathetic lighting”, there’s always Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009).