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Amy (1998)
Australian National Cinema and its Value

A situation of 'Amy' in relation to Australian national cinema as a medium sized English language cinema.


The feature 'Amy' demonstrates how film policy and medium sized English language national cinema characteristics influence textuality. The survival of Australia's national cinema depends on governmental policy as it controls the historical, political and economic contexts of production. Evidence is established by the correlation between the industry environment during a particular decade and the types of films ultimately produced. As an Australia film produced during the decade of the 1990s, 'Amy' is influenced by industry trends.

In 1989 Australia plunged into economic recession. The Australian film industry suffered due to high interest rates, bankruptcy of financiers and production and talent leaving the industry or relocating overseas through lack of employment which diminished Australian film resources.. "Support for the film industry looked dangerously regressive. At a time when protective barriers for other industries were being demolished ....... it was difficult to justify such generous support, or so went the reasoning of the economic rationalists." (Jacka: 1997, p.243.) Consequently, policy reduced tax incentives. "10BA concessions became less generous and so less attractive to investors." (O'Regan: 1998, p.1.) These factors impeded private, Australian investment in film limiting the financial ability to produce high budget Australian films. Policy reacted by encouraging internationalisation of the Australian film industry by recommending co-productions be formed with overseas financiers and a push for low budget, commercially orienated, universal films. "Industry thinking and policy making moved towards greater international integration through finance sources for local productions and coproductions as well as attracting 'foreign'/offshore productions to Australia." (O'Regan: 1998, p.1.) 'Amy' is discontinuous to this internationalisation of finance as it was fully Australian funded by Melbourne based, Cascade Films and Film Victoria. However, industry circumstances illustrate why it took several years to attract the money needed to film 'Amy' due to its closeness to alternative art film instead of a low budget mainstream movie. Tass explains the struggle of locating funding that did not threaten 'Amy's' script creativity as; " people do not want to know about grief, and financiers want to know even less about grief. Financiers are also told by Hollywood that a mixing of genres stylistically on the screen is more than likely not going to give them their money back....... We did go back to David's original draft- over the years people would say, 'Well, what if you simplified it, then we'll give you the money', and our reaction to that was, 'Well, how do you think we should simplify it?' One response, 'Well, maybe you should take out Tanya's huge breakthrough outside the cafe', which just doesn't make sense to me; the guy didn't get it. Another one was, 'Well, maybe you should take out the singing'. What are you left with? You've got no reason to tell a story. Then another person said, 'Well, take out all the comedy'. Okay. Then what we're dealing with is a drama tragedy. It doesn't make sense. (Malone, 2001, p 146.) These comments demonstrate the extensive control national cinema environments influence over the outcome of individual filmmaker's projects unlike the large, privatised industry of Hollywood that can enjoy creative freedom if it desires. In medium sized national cinema like Australia; "to secure funding, a project required a financial commitment from the market - placing decisions about the merits of projects largely in the hands of distributors, sales agents and broadcasters in Australia and overseas. "(Maddox: 1996, p.77.) This demonstrates the economic climate of the 1990s, the dilemma facing the industry to internationalise and the extreme persistence and patience Tass and Parker had to endure in order to be allowed to deliver *their* story of 'Amy'.

Unlike policy driven low budget, commercial films such as 'The Craic', 'The Castle' and 'The Wog Boy', 'Amy' can be classed as an instance of 'quality' feature film in high/low cultural divides. Inspiration for the film occurred during a theatre production rather than from popular culture sites. Despite comprising of dysfunctional characters, it does not encompass the vulgarity of 'ocker'. Instead it deals with the feminised binary opposition with well rounded lead characters who are psychologically scarred and have to work through their emotions of grief and trauma. A characteristic of 1990s cinema is its feminised reputation and 'Amy' is continuous to this preoccupation. Previous to the 1990s cinema; "Australia has a long tradition of male 'mateship', and bases its national identity on the doings of these mates, ........ Women are largely excluded from the national myths that legitimate the Australian state." (O'Regan: 1996, p.295.) Equal opportunity policy has initiated substantial social change to the national culture although Australian identity is still linked to masculine legends of the ANZACS, mateship and the bush. Social policy change has enabled the rise of increased creative control by women within the Australian film industry. 'Amy' is a reflection of this trend as Nadia Tass is a female director and co-producer.

Similarly, the 1989 multicultural policy has also impacted on national identity and is mirrored in Australia's cultural pursuits. An international cinema policy also encouraged universal narratives and multicultural content for the purpose of creating appeal for overseas markets. As 'Amy', deals with human emotions and, in particular the overwhelming grief associated with death of loved ones, it effortlessly translates cross-culturally. It is closely similar to European filmmaking stylistics than Hollywood's straightforward genres as it engages with an almost bizarre mix of genres from tragic drama to comedy to musical and various realist social issues despite its eventual cheerful conclusion. Combined with the delightful charm of music as a plot device, 'Amy' is an alluring piece of cinema to a variety of audiences. Multiculturalism is also highlighted on screen with Tanya's father a Spanish migrant and Tanya's employment in Melbourne was in a Spanish bar where she leisurely participates in traditional national dances along with the customers. Tanya and Amy's Spanish heritage as well as the film aesthetics may have been inspired by Tass originating from Greece. Foreign filmmakers enable enhanced insight into the portrayal of modern, multicultural Australia.. "The work of multicultural artists i.e. cultural producers of a culturally diverse background - is a privileged site for the renegotiation of form and content." (O'Regan: 1996, p.325.) de Roma in real life is a second generation Italian-Australian and Gallacher as Dr Urquhart plays his role with a Scottish accent that he did not possess in Tass's other film Mr Reliable. The script also plays with the Republican debate as while Amy sings God Save the Queen on a public tram, Republican Boy played by Tass and Parker's son John Tass Parker proclaims "That's stupid! This isn't England, this is Australia!" The elderly women smile fondly at Amy symbolising that Australia's British identity is now only a nostalgic memory of the past contrasting the political views of the young and old. Despite evidence of social renegotiation, non-whites most notably Asians and Aborigines are absent on-screen displaying their problematic existence within hegemony possibly due to the controversial nature during the Pauline Hanson years. The film instead celebrates already accepted multiculturalism displaying that multicultural policy has not achieved complete equality, yet social transformation is evident in disempowered sites such as cinema.

The content follows traditional Australian thematic preoccupations such as displaying working class culture, anti-authoritarian beliefs and poking fun at characterisations of Australians. 'Amy' exhibits realistic disadvantage and disempowerment in the hegemonic socioeconomic divide that exists beneath the egalitarianism myth. It likewise demonstrates the suspicion and opposition by the working class towards authority figures. Australian filmmakers possess a tendency to construct the police, government and the wealthy and powerful as almost imbeciles, while the lovable, lawbending underdog cleverly prevails. From Australia's convict history, to anti-heroes like Ned Kelly, Australians celebrates rebellion, mischief and succeeding despite the odds. The humour in 'Amy' thrives because it is a fairly accurate depiction of Australian working class society and; "one of the best ways of getting an Australian audience to accept itself, one of the things we're fondest of, is the send up, we're prepared to look at our life and laugh at it in a way that we're not prepared to look at our life and be serious about it." (O'Regan: 1998, p.10.) The film also celebrates the Australian scenery with the magnificent earthy outback landscape contrasted with Melbourne's city centre of historical architecture, culture and atmosphere presenting Australia as a unique and diverse landscape and nation.

'Amy' as a case study of the value of Australian Cinema

'Amy' did not appear to be overly appreciated by mainstream cinema audiences in Australia and there are commercial and cultural reason explaining this situation. The market is depressingly powerfully dominated by Hollywood product which has an output and big budget production standards which Australian essentially cannot hope to compete with. Australian audiences seem conditioned by the media to prefer American filmmaking to their own cultural texts. If Australian government policy protection was withdrawn the industry would cease existence as it is financially unfeasible. Simply, its artistic value to Australian cultural pursuits is the chief factor sustaining the industry. The disinterest in Australian film by mainstream cinema audiences in this country can be blamed on the following dynamics. Sharing the English language of Hollywood causes the market to be flooded with American, and to a lesser extent British product as it is not protected by the language barrier other national cinemas benefit from such as France. When local cinema becomes popular in Australia it is usually when filmmakers mimic Hollywood commercialised production values, stylistics and high finance backing such as 'Crocodile Dundee' (1986), 'Babe', (1995) 'Young Einstein' (1988) and 'Muriel's Wedding'. (1994) The majority of Australian cinema is largely ignored, left to find a small niche in arthouse, alternative or foreign categories and habitually only finds general Australian audiences in its video releases and television broadcasts. Outside of film festival circuits it seems to be constantly criticised as inferior by mainstream media particularly in the United States. In general though Australian cinema is more highly regarded internationally and this is where it profits commercially due to added appeal and higher populations. One advantage of it being an English language, westernised cinema is that it can be sold to the same markets as Hollywood film especially in non-English speaking countries who cannot differentiate between American and Australian product. To English speaking audiences it is a novelty and sometimes a liberation to find a unique film with alternative film stylistics that are closer to European than American. People often desire a change from predictable Hollywood genre movies. These factors help clarify why 'Amy' received a minimum response from audiences.

As a medium sized English language national cinema, the survival of Australia's film industry depends on governmental support as it controls the historical, political and economic contexts of production. The industry atmosphere influences textually the types of films that are allowed to be created. Consequently, 'Amy' exists as a product of the 1990s environment and, hence, shares its preoccupations.

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