Walkabout - Classic Film Pick
A wealthy Australian businessman takes his 14-year-old daughter and six-year-old son into the arid Outback for a picnic. The children are dressed in their private school uniforms. The father drives his black Volkswagen Bug until it runs out of gas. As the lanky girl sets food out on a scarf, a portable radio plays. The boy plays on a cluster of rocks. After viewing his children through a pair of binoculars, the man takes out a pistol and fires at his children. They flee. He sets the car on fire and blows his brains out. So it is that the siblings begin a journey for survival that mirrors the "walkabout" tradition of a 16-year-old Aborigine living alone off the land as his tribal ancestors have done for thousands of years. He will save them. The favor will not be returned.
After sharing directing duties on the groundbreaking experimental film "Performance," Nicolas Roeg began an exceptionally fruitful career as a filmmaker with this singularly unique approach to cinematic storytelling. The result is unforgettable, nearly legendary. Based loosely on a novel by James Vance Marshall, Roeg's first solo effort is a complex treatise on ecology, racism, and a cultural clash between primitive man and his industrially-bound white neighbors. Roeg employs a sonic landscape of radiowave stimulus to underscore the harsh juxtaposition between modern technology and the natural world. Noisy transistor squeals and beeps screech as harmonic disruption to the sounds of birds and buzzing insects. The camera's frame of reference too provides a hallucinatory vantage point. A brick wall that covers the entire screen can obscure a busy street or reveal a wide-open desert terrain. Memories flash in still frames to form a fragmented collage structure. Time can stop. Transparent camels from the past walk across the desert. Their depleted carcasses are there too.
The long-limbed Aborigine boy (David Gulpilil) wears only a small loincloth. The girl wears a short gray skirt and a white schoolgirl blouse. His skin is dark yet immune to the unrelenting sun, while her white flesh burns and blisters. The sexual tension between them is diffused by their inability to communicate through language. He speaks from the heart in his native tongue while she speaks in a British accent that stresses strict codes of behavior she has learned by rote. The boy carries two spears that he uses constantly to kill the lizards, kangaroo, and buffalo he cooks.
"Walkabout" is a poetic film that incorporates a collective subconscious of humanist values. It reveals those mores being broken just as they are smashed daily in every corner of the globe by politicians, corporations, and local exploiters of every stripe.
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