The Australian New Wave
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In cinema history, the 1970s are most well known for the breakout of American independent filmmakers. By the end of the 1960s, Hollywood studios were at a loss as to how to get audiences into theatres, and so gave the green light to young filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Dennis Hopper and so on. This movement is now held in higher popular esteem than virtually any other, due in large part to the cultural dominance of America across the world.
But the 70s also saw the emergence of an Australian New Wave, with filmmakers like Philip Noyce (Newsfront), Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career), Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant) and Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock) all taking advantage of what were mostly Government funds to create distinctively Australian works to local and overseas acclaim. Though it’s worth noting the reception from overseas was usually more positive than our own shores.
“[The Australian new wave] has been extraordinary. It does hold great hope for the future. It has certainly taught the British film industry a thing or two. And as a whingeing Pom, may I say I’m damned jealous.“
– Derek Malcolm, film critic for The Guardian, 1980
From David Stratton’s “The Last New Wave“
Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to imagine that an overseas critic could actually be envious of our film industry. While a good film or two does come out of Australia every now and then, a great many of them are major disappointments and sink without a trace.
It’s important to remember that the greatest successes of the Australian renaissance were not produced in a Hollywood fashion of targeting the lowest common denominator of film audiences. While the 80s saw a surge in “Ozploitation” films and of course the success of the Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max franchises, the internationally lauded films that made of the core of this new wave (Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, Newsfront, My Brilliant Career) were decidedly arthouse films.
The key to a resurgence in Australian filmmaking lies in the courage to support unique, challenging films that defy conventional Hollywood film structure. It was the courage of writers, directors, actors and producers to create unconventional, unique films that led to the highlight in Australian cinema history.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be reviewing films that were a part of the Australian new wave, in the hope of showing why these films worked, to encourage others to seek out these kinds of films, and hopefully to encourage filmmakers, not to try duplicating these films, but gain the courage to express themselves in their own way.