3 October 2012

Walkabout by Roeg, 1971

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 2:36 pm


  1. This is from dr. Sinthome’s latest post that’s been run through a Texan dialectizer

    Alex gits right t’th’ co’e of th’ quesshun: whut differences o’ relashuns make a difference an’ whut type of difference does they make? Th’ problem wif th’ internalist posishun thet claims thet intities o’ objecks does not precede they relashuns o’ haf enny independence fum their relashuns, thet claim thet objecks is their relashuns (see th’ previous post), is thet they renner us completely unable t’reckon this hyar quesshun. Eff’n it is true thet no intity o’ “relata” precedes its relashuns, is thet we is lef’ unable t’reckon whut difference th’ subtrackshun o’ addishun of a relashun makes t’th’ entity in quesshun. Th’ situashun is far wo’se in th’ case of Whitehaid’s ontology, whar it is said thet ev’ry intity in th’ unyverse shares a puffickly definite “prehenshun” (relashun) t’ev’ry other intity in th’ unyverse an’ thet etch intity is but a bundle of th’ way in which it prehends other intities. Whitehaid says thet he be hankerin’ t’reckon th’ condishuns unner which novelty is postible, but it is difficult t’see how thar c’d ev’ry be enny novelty in his ontology fo’ th’ mighty simple an’ basic reason thet thar kin nevah be enny noo incounters fo’ intities. Whuffo’ kin’t thar be enny noo incounters between intities? Thar kin be no noo incounters between intities on account o’ intities is already related t’all other intities thet exist in th’ unyverse. Whar an intity is already related t’all other intities thet exist, thar kin be no quesshun of a noo incounter.


    Comment by CPC — 3 October 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  2. Y’all got me scratchin’ mah haid over this yere project o’ yourn, CPC, but I did quote Alex’s remark (favorably) and one of Levi’s responses to a commenter (negatively) in a little chitchat with the head vole over at his blog.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2012 @ 3:27 pm

  3. Patrick’s angry on account o’ ah spoiled th’ post on his favo’ite movie. So I’ll talk about dr. Sinthome some other time.

    Ah proposed on CPC thet we o’ganize a monthly movie viewin’ whar all participants watch th’ same, so thet commentin’ kin be made easier. Patrick didn’t be hankerin’ to, but mebbe yo’ does.


    Comment by CPC — 3 October 2012 @ 3:54 pm

  4. It is a sublime movie, which I viewed on Patrick’s recommendation. The only other Roeg I’ve seen is the fantastic Don’t Look Now, with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie encountering death in Venice. At the time you wrote this comment: “DO not jump too fast to the next movie because this one I really want to discuss deeply, into detail.” I’m not sure I could hold up my end of a discussion on that one now, 4½ years later. I do recommend Walkabout highly, though it is more the kind of film to experience without having to analyze it. The little boy is Roeg’s son, and he talks and talks but what he says doesn’t matter much for the story. It’s about movement, images, sound, mood. There is a commentary about modern culture intrinsic to the movie, but I don’t think the impact is enhanced by belaboring the message.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2012 @ 4:52 pm

  5. “There is a commentary about modern culture intrinsic to the movie, but I don’t think the impact is enhanced by belaboring the message.”

    There is, but it rarely seems natural, which it does here. The final scene in Sydney, with Jenny Agutter in a modern apartment and remembering, is incredibly moving, and then is spoken the A,.E. Housman poem. I think Agutter’s character is superbly drawn, and could not possibly be better sustained than as she has done it. Her maternal care of her little brother, her suffering, her strength, her fear, her understandable inability to respond to the black boy when they’re finally close to safety. And the music. Not only the Stockhausen for the nighttime desert scenes, but the themes themselves, including the girls’ choir chant, as Jenny remembers them. Paul Theroux, in his travel book ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’ does include Australia, calling it ‘Meganesia’, a term I’ve never heard before or since, was complaining (in the 90s) that the film ‘was never revived’, he loved it too. But it had always been revived here, at least, and I saw it several times at the old revival houses St. Mark’s Playhouse, Cinema Village, and the Thalia with Diane. He also quotes the Housman poem at the beginning of his semi-autobiographical ‘My Secret History’. Remembering how I used to feel about it, I can see that by the decade of the 00’s, the sense of loss was so great you were supposed to say less and less about it. That continues with most people, but they do feel it. What they’ve done is lost still more, so that they can’t even bear to ponder it. And so many have decided that only some kind of ‘brave new world’ with nothing at all of the past is the way to go. I guess my version of dealing with this forced compromise is to become an erotomane (I like that better than ‘erotomaniac’), because it seems impersonal but still human. But it’s a pleasure to see that I can re-establish a sense of connection to this film. I’m glad you liked it.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 3 October 2012 @ 6:19 pm

  6. I liked it very much. It’s striking that the fierce vitality driving the movie is bookended by suicides. And then it ends with the girl living a kind of dead life in what looks to be the very same apartment in which she grew up, repeating the deadly boredom of her parents. For his courting dance the aborigine boy paints himself like a glittering skeleton, having just witnessed the senseless slaughter of animals by the white hunters. He must know in his desperate passion that his suit is doomed, and that Jenny would rather stand on that empty paved highway than live in the rich wilderness of which he has now proven his mastery. It’s a highly erotic movie too isn’t it, beginning right away with the classroom full of anomalously panting teen-aged girls and continuing throughout. But it is finally a sadness and a sense of loss, palpable even while the scenes in the bush are unfolding with the sharp and nearly surreal images giving the film the feel of a vividly remembered dream.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2012 @ 7:31 pm

  7. But it’s a pleasure t’see thet ah can re-establish a sense of cornneckshun t’this film, dawgone it.


    Comment by CPC — 4 October 2012 @ 8:22 am

  8. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0347858/bio

    Interesting, that like Kiri TeKanawa, although not to that extent, Gulpilil, is very much a part of the British Commonwealth. I had not remembered that the characters had no names, although I think the little boy called Jenny something like ‘Greggi’, it sounded like that.

    My impression was that it was more extraordinarily sensual than erotic, although it’s true he wants Jenny. It’s that final daydream that she has that tells all. At the time, she was in a state of total exhaustion and anything toward familiar civilization was going to cause only a positive reaction, whether an empty paved highway or a Sydney high-rise. It sounds strange when ‘Little Boy’ says ‘He’s dead’. The gorgeous original music is by John Barry. During the trek you never see the timeless joy of nakedness and swimming she remembers, I believe (I haven’t seen it for perhaps 15 years, although I believe I’ve seen it at least 3 times. I can’t remember if I wrote about the moment toward the end of my stay in Alabama in IDNYC, when I played at that club for 4 months of the 1989 summer, when I played for this local fashion show thing. I would often play the ‘walkabout’ them, the one that soars up in movie-music style, and this one day I played it and, in between the big main theme, I played the girls’ choir chant, and the whole noisy restaurant was silent, I heard them. Nothing like that ever happened quite so profoundly when I was playing in any setting, whether more lofty-classical, or what. They heard me, it seemed, but they heard me as I felt totally alone. There was an older lady who had aged wonderfully and at about 70 had a wonderfully mannequin like figure, when she modelled I played ‘Hello, Dolly!’ for her; I believe the ‘Walkabout’ theme was later.

    ‘Girl’ and ‘Black Boy’ are both alone at that point when he, but not she, decides they should be together. She’s playing a girl much younger than the actress Agutter, who was 16 at the beginning of delayed filming (which I just found out here, among other things: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenny_Agutter Isn’t it all so tragic, everything? OBE 2012 for charitable work for cystic fibrosis, of which she is a carrier, at age 59.) My impression is that she is supposed to be about 12 or 13 in the character. I had first seen the film sometime in the late 70s at Theater 80 St. Marks, because a few years later Diane and I went to see it at an arthouse uptown with an obnoxious ex-bf. and queen, who went on and on about ‘Do you find him a turn-on?’ It seems I’d already begun to think of the film in an almost religious way. I LOATHE David Thomson, the pretentious British critic who calls it ‘middle-cult’ or something like that.

    So that one can see her as ungrateful or simply uncomprehending: She wouldn’t know how to ‘live in’ this ‘rich wilderness’ even if she somehow has come to respect him. I think Jenny brings an extraordinariness to the part of ‘The Girl’, even though you can see the character is an ordinary English girl. This is what all performed art is supposed to do, from dance to theater and opera to movies. Maybe not always, but it’s part of the incredible romanticism of ‘Walkabout’ that she emphasizes the girl’s strength during the terrifying parts, protecting Little Boy.

    I think what we’re both talking about in this ‘loss’ matter is that, of course, in all things, the new and reborn replace the old and dead, but their is a point to paying respects to what has been passed by, and completely forgetting it is somehow very profane, and seems a reaction to pain caused by something in the present that means you have lost all connection with your past. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as Joan Didion’s 8-year public grieving; what is interesting is that, just before the husband died and the daughter got sick, she had pointed out that the pioneer families, hers among them, had no time for grief, even if it be a child of their own (she’d definitely come a long way.) But the Girl’s part was written like that as well, to vacillate between mature and ordinary. If she were only ordinary, she would have never stopped in the middle of chopping liver or whatever that is and experienced what had once been–but that beautiful memory had been surrounded mostly be painful experiences, and was itself somewhat sad even if beautiful–because the moment even in its present had been complete, but not the kind of thing that is ever sustainable. So then you retrieve those things when you can. When I was at the worst of this recent ‘low’, I could retrieve none of them, and the ability to do so has always been one of the things that has gotten me through the hardest times.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 4 October 2012 @ 4:11 pm

  9. Is this post-colonial fantasy, the comfortable white suburban housewife romanticizing life in the bush with the magical Abo? That doesn’t really work. He’s the savior, not her, though she never steps far enough out of her English middle classness to acknowledge it. I don’t think she regards him as her servant though, where she simply expects him to find and prepare food as is his duty. Why does he kill himself? Is it just his unrequited love for the white maiden, making the Abo girls not even worth living for? Again, I don’t think that’s it. It’s as if the boy has deemed the girl’s civilization as a kind of death cult. Her rejection of him isn’t just fear of his sexuality: it’s fear of death, or death-in-life perhaps. The dance is frightening at least as much as it is seductive. He woos her as a dead man woos a dead woman, holding up a mirror. Maybe that’s why she shows more repulsion at his dance than at his corpse. But as you observe, she can’t be expected to understand or to respond on his terms, being already so traumatized and alienated and fatigued, bending all her strength and emotion to the possibility of return.

    I believe that the naked swimming scene may have been cut in the earlier releases of the movie. It’s there now though in the restored DVD. It’s one of the few scenes where the girl seems simply relaxed and happy and free and secure.

    Great that you played the music and that people responded. It was surprisingly lush for such a stark world, but it surely enhanced the romanticism, as did the gorgeous camerawork. Notable that the didgeridoo music is played only, as I recall, in the opening urban scenes. I got a kick out of the Rod Stewart song playing on the transistor radio when the crazy father is taking potshots at his children. I don’t know the Stockhausen, so I don’t recall where it was played in the movie.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 October 2012 @ 5:43 pm

  10. “Is this post-colonial fantasy, the comfortable white suburban housewife romanticizing life in the bush with the magical Abo? ”

    No, of course not. I don’t think even in later life she ‘fantasized’ about him or the experience. Since the daydream comes so much later, she had quite possibly repressed almost all of it, because the father’s suicide and attempted murder of the children was horrible enough, if that had been all that was going to be horrible.

    Wasn’t it just more this: “It’s one of the few scenes where the girl seems simply relaxed and happy and free and secure.”

    Not that that would have been possible without the Black Boy, but it’s as if, in the modern high-rise (her husband speaks, I believe, as she wanders off into this memory), she remembers herself, and what she’d briefly been allowed to see into. But it’s placed so vividly at the end with the recitation of the Housman poem, that you aren’t sure that she isn’t going to start thinking about those things some more. Not everyone has had such an experience, not nearly.

    Your ideas about the ‘death-cult society’ and the uselessness of the ‘abo maidens’ I’m not sure about. That perfect moment which is what life is all about when you’ve had even one would have been when there was no thought of the conflict between the two conditionings. He may have felt something for her as an individual, even if it wasn’t there, and that she experienced, but only momentarily, and when she remembered the day, it still wasn’t the same as that and many other days would have been perceived by him. We don’t get as much of what his perception is, because we don’t know any more about it than she did. We know even less, because we didn’t go through it.

    The Stockihausen is in some of the desert scenes, like the oasis with the animals crawling about, it is like sound effects that you might not even consciously here. Probably in several places. I need to watch this again. Isn’t there also on the radio when they’re walking toward the end this song ‘Los Angeles, Los Angeles’, sung as if by some mid-70s country group or one of the later jazz fusion groups like Spirogyra, but still sounding dissonant against all that Australian primeval gorgeousness, and slightly humorous, although he could have never chosen something like Sinatra’s “L.A. Is My Lady” (that may be an 80s song, but that’s beside the point. It seems meant to cause dissonance and contrast, but not to call that much attention to itself.)

    So the daydream of that day of swimming could be The Girl’s being both ordinary and extraordinary, or just being ordinary but going through an extraordinary experience, and perhaps by now deepening some from her mundane life, which actually doesn’t look so terrible outside the context, just not exotic. And then again perhaps she won’t.

    Peter Weir’s ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ is also good about Australia, and I think I saw it on a double bill one of the times I saw ‘Walkabout’, but it didn’t make that strong an impression.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 4 October 2012 @ 6:12 pm

  11. “Your ideas about the ‘death-cult society’ and the uselessness of the ‘abo maidens’ I’m not sure about.”

    Me either. That whole scene was strange: the great white hunters slaughtering the buffalo, the skeletal body paint, the danse macabre of love, and especially the suicide, for which I couldn’t quite make out a motivation. I wasn’t even persuaded he was dead until after the scene was ended. Unrequited love? It seems too extreme for that. Something more symbolic and surreal related to the clash of cultures, but again I’m reluctant to pick it apart too thoroughly.

    The song about Los Angeles I didn’t recognize either. It reminded me of songs I’d hear in France, lyrics in English obviously sung by Americans, that never would have made it in the USA. The Rod Stewart though established the time of the movie for me with precision.

    The swimming scene featured Jenny in full frontal and backal nudity. Apparently this couldn’t have been filmed if she had been younger than 16, though in the physical and cultural context of outback it made perfect sense. Of course Roeg did clearly find her hot in her perky school uniform with the short skirt.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 October 2012 @ 7:20 pm

  12. “Something more symbolic and surreal related to the clash of cultures, but again I’m reluctant to pick it apart too thoroughly.”

    I think that’s right, though. And there are other elements, like not continuing to pursue, which could also be something ‘cultural’ that we don’t know about.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 4 October 2012 @ 7:34 pm

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