Saturday, March 5, 2011


 What a contrast here to follow a zombie flick with an historical drama. This film was made in 1981and I can vividly remember its release and the stir it caused. Not a controversial stir but a stir of two countries looking at their prospective histories. It is an Australian film but the events are very much New Zealand's story as well. Gallipoli as a battle field is indelibly stamped on our two countries memories. It is in many respects where we both found our identities and our desire to break free from our British heritage and make our own way in the world.
 Unfortunately for reasons long forgotten I didn't get to see this in a theatre. The first, and only time, I saw it was on television in about 1982-83. When I watched it the other night I found very little that I could remember about it. Thirty years has that sort of effect doesn't it? The first and most striking thing I noticed was that compared to the recent 80's horrors I have been watching this film had dated extremely well. I found it hard to believe it was thirty years old.
 This is the film that started Mel Gibson's career. At the time he was a realitive unknown but Gallipoli threw him into the lime light and then on to Mad Max. It is hard to believe that he is now all but finished as an actor after his recent behaviour. Way to go Mel, you sure are a long way from Gallipoli now aren't you?
 I must stress this is an Australian film. Gallipoli as a campaign is as much a New Zealand story as it is Australian. While it depicts young Australian men the some thing happened in New Zealand as thousands joined up in what they thought was just a bit of fun. The film depicts two young men who travel together to Perth from the outback. One is underage and determined to enlilst. The other wants nothing to do with the war in Europe. From the start the mesage of the times is clear as Australia debated within itself whether the war was actually their concern or not.
 I liked the way Peter Weir has captured the mood of the times. This is a very young country that still feels allegience to Britain. The innocence of the times is well portrayed. The men who rushed to enlist had absolutely no idea what they were getting themselves into.
 So we see both men enlist through various stages and then shipped off to Egypt. It is a film of two halfs. One half is the story of how young Aussies viewed the war through newspapers and how they felt about it. What is so palpable is the propaganda of the times that all but brain washed them into enlisting by trying to make them feel guilty if they didn't. The second half is the lose of innocence for these young men as they were thrown into the crucible of war.
 It isn't a war film per se, it is an historical drama. It has copped some flak for some inaccuracies and in particularly the depiction of British officers. Some of the inaccuracies are for brevities sake. Too much would have made the film too long and the historical scope lost in nothing but battle scenes. For me the film got the balance just right between the time in Australia and that in the Middle East.
 After Egypt the men were shipped off to Gallipoli, and here the loss of innocence starts. It is hard to believe men would look forward to battle but they were so naive it was still viewed as a lark. The final part of the film revolves around the Battle of the Nek. The critisims of the historical accuracies of the film come from this depiction. One of the main ones being that of an officer who continuously orders attacks whilst ignoring the real facts of the situation. He is portrayed as British but was in actual fact an Australian.
 This led to some controversy as it was felt historical license was being taken and the British being unfairy blamed for the events of the battle. The Nek really was a wholly Australian run affair. To be sure British leadership at Gallipoli left much to be desired but they weren't alone in that fact. The said officer in question was Australian but spoke with an English accent. This wasn't uncommon for the time as many officers had emigrated from England and it must be remembered that British influence still ran very deep in Australian society, so it should come as no surprise some men mirrored the English way of speaking. It is something of a storm in a teacup and for me added a bit of historical credibility to the film.
 The battle scenes still look good. They are not Saving Private Ryan graphic, but for a film of its age are realistic and give a feel for trench warfare on the peninsular. Like I have already stated this isn't strictly a war film it is an historical snapshot of Australian history. For me everything in the film is just as relevant to New Zealand. The story and events of our collective nations men enlisting and being slaughtered under false illusions, and far from home, were just the same as they were for the Australians.
 I like this film and I like it alot. It may have a few historical liberties but they should be put aside. The story of Gallipoli on Australia is huge and can't be told within two hours. This film does an extremely good job of depicting the times. It does it without gloss or finger pointing. In short I think it is an extremely sensitive film of the events that shaped the history and identity of a young nation.
 Very much worth your while to see. We in Aus and NZ are very familiar with this film and its importance within our societies. I've read the campaign and my own country's involvement so I got alot out of watching this film again after so many years. The end is very poignant and quite moving as anyone who knows the campaign will gather. In the space of eight seconds Peter Weir summed up Gallipoli with its bunglings and the resulting loss of life which was in appaling numbers. For me it is one of the most outstanding scenes in cinematic history.
 To put this film in context to say, American readers, Gallipoli is to Australians what Platoon and Full Metal Jacket is to Americans. Both are important films for an America trying to understand and live with the Vietnam War. German film makers are doing similar things with their recent history. One only has to think of the recent, and quite brilliant, Downfall. 
 Even after thirty years Gallipoli is still a fine film and anyone with an historical eye will like it. Fans of Mel Gibson should see it as this is where it began for him.
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