AGAINST THE GRAIN
Australia, 1981, 78 minutes, Colour.
Michael Callaghan, Sandy Edwards, Joy Burns, Mary Burns, Letham Burns.
Directed by Tim Burns.
Against the Grain was screened at the Melbourne Film Festival in 1980. It had limited, partly successful commercial specialist release. it is a short film by writer-director Tim Burns. Working with small budget and on 16 mm., Burns uses a blend of avant garde styles, experimental techniques with a background of commercial features. The film is political in its exploration of terrorism and the repercussions for Australian society and political systems. The film is also an exploration of violence as the title and the quotation from Jean Genet suggest.
The film is also an exploration of the terrorism of the camera: its invasion of privacy, capturing people and preserving them. There are also themes of feminism vs. male chauvinism. Also, by implication, are themes of surveillance and political use of media techniques. There are many interesting ingredients in the film including a central characterisation of a terrorist, critique of Australian society, the visualising of so many aspects of the ordinary way of life, the suggestion of terrorist possibilities in Australia. The film is one of those which is more rewarding in reflection and study rather than during viewing.
1. The quality of the film? Its value as an experimental film, commercial film? The varying techniques and styles used? Its particularly cinematic impact - arrangements of visuals and sounds? The place for this kind of feature in the Australian film industry? Influencing Australian taste, exploration of themes?
2. The audience for which it was made? Its presupposing a willingness of the audience to supply concentration, analysis of thews, capacity for responding to the visuals and sounds? What main elements does it require from its audience?
3. The range of visual impact: camera styles, hand-held, documentary, experiments with camera work, colour photography? The importance of the editing? Pace and speed? Realism and contrivance? The film's analysis of the work of a camera, of recording? Popular art? The importance of sound: the voice-over and its tone, commentary, themes?
4. Conversations overheard? The interimittent use of radio - Its sound, content? The continual use of sounds in the background? The computer voice? How well do these combine with the visuals? Contrast with them and counterpoint them?
5. The significance of the title and the quotation from Genet? The focus on violence - any violence e.g. the grain and bread and wheat? The visual presentation of bread and the growing of wheat throughout the film? The use of the violence of the grain as a symbol for social violence and political violence, terrorism, the violence between the sexes, the intrusion of camera and recording media?
6. The film was intended to make political statement. Does it? About what? In which sequences? How persuasively? About Australian society?
7. Terrorism? Surveillance? Invasion of privacy? The domination of the impersonal state? Is the point of view of the screenplay proven? Audience interest in, identification with, following of the ray unit story? The preparations for the bomb, the Anzac Day explosion? That kind of character in himself? His work in Sydney, associates, motivation? Surveillance information given? His journey to Perth? seeing him at home, his mother? Other relations? The visit to the cousins in the country and seeing them at work - the animal-slaughtering and treating, the Whitfields? His association with terrorists, training, discussions? The meeting with Paula and the discussion about photography? His being photographed and his reaction to this?
8. His further plans? How much the portrait of an individual? How much insight into the character? By behaviour, by computer information? The presentation of the family ~ as they were seen, visualised? Their ordinariness, conventional behaviour? The long sequence of the eating, with close-ups? The visit to the cousins in the country? The importance of the close-ups, the ugliness? The Whitfields and the cousin working in the country? The long butchering sequence?
9. Paula and her taking photos, the reasons, part of the surveillance group? The discussions about photos and invasions of privacy? Photography and violence? The justice of the reproduction? The discussion about exploitation, the victimisation of women? The satire in the using of male models, close-ups of male nudity? The theories of the use of camera? Paula's relationship with the surveillance group and the computer?
10. The film's close-ups and detail about bomb-making? The discussions about bombs, their use, accidents?
11. The presentation of the state, the critique of capitalism, propaganda, communication? The state's using individuals? The individual against the state? Groups against the state? The importance of reaction? Revolution and overthrow - by violent means, subversion? Critique of the ideologies of the state?
12. The computer as the vehicle of the state? of the final credits with their computer style?
13. The violence of life, explosions, violent art? The relationship between art and violence? The creativity of violence?
14. Themes of sexuality - ray units identity, maleness,-relationship with family, with Paula? Sex and its use - men and women as objects?
15. The final movement towards the wider issues of terrorism, bombs, accidents? The nuclear question? The long excerpts from the telemovie Red Alert?
16. Tim Burns' comment about the effectiveness of disjointedness for communicating in film? Lateral development of plot rather than linear? The raising of questions? The capacity of the audience for staying with the questions and developing the lateral movement of the film? The audience ability to stay with the film and its issues? what was the audience left with in terms of an experience, questions raised, further critical approach to the questions raised? Observing, recording? The irony?