Friday, March 25, 2011

Romper Stomper

 I'm getting old!! I can so vividly remember seeing Romper Stomper way back in the Dark Ages of 1992, and yet it doesn't feel like nineteen years has passed by. That is truely scarey and I'm still coming to terms with how long it has been. I saw this is the old State theatre and the one thing I can't rememeber is actually seeing it there! I thought I had seen it at Readings down the road which would have been impossible since that didn't open until 1995-96-ish.
 For you outside of the land of Oz and NZ this movie caused a huge stir and hubabaloo when it was released. This is one of the most controversial movies ever to come out of Oz. To look back now it is laughable because the depicted violence is quite tame by todays standards. But in its day it was vicious and brutal, which brought a wealth of condemnation down on its head. I remember it all so well. There were people on telly moaning about it, churches moaned about it, politicians moaned about it, so it was subsequently slapped with an R-18 rating. All those who moaned were outraged stating the film should have been ourightly baned from NZ cinemas!! It all made me laugh because all it did was raise awarenes of the movies existence and people flocked to theatres to watch it!!!
 The last movie that caused so much controversy in NZ, which is still somewhat conservative, was 8mm. Again it drove people into cinemas and not away!! It seems so ridiculous now in the age of 'gorno' type movies like the awful Saw series and Hostel, which barely raised a whimper when released. Saw and Hostel are garbage, and whilst I believe in freedom of expression and thought, both those movies trouble me and I would rather see shit like that removed from our screens. They have no real purpose but to be gross for the sake of some perverted idea of entertainment.
 In its day Romper Stomper wasn't like this. It was a serious look at rascism in Melbourne by a bunch of skinheads towards Asian migrants. It always annoys me how a serious film that has a no holds barred approach is critised for its realism whilst Hostel, which is disturbing to say the least, is barely commented on. Romper Stomper was absolutely put through the wringer in 1992 for its violence. It may look tame now but back then it was full on and ultra-violent. The fight scenes had all the street weapons imaginable from chains, soft ball bats, knifes, nun-chucks, and even sharpened up garden tools like spades and slashers.
 We see both asians and skinheads get beaten senseless and left for dead. It is harrowing stuff . Critics of the movie could only concentrate on its violence and not what what was causing it, namely racism. The running street brawl is a culmination of the skinhead's tomenting a local Vietnamese community which finally has enough and deals to them. The skinheads are eventually out-numbered and driven from their pad. We feel no sympathy for them. In fact we feel disgust at how pathetic they are. They are thugs and straight out animals who can barely look after themselves properly in the way of cooking or house keeping. They are the low lifes of society and the movie isn't shy in showing us this. Glorifying skinheads, racism and violence? Hardly!
 This was Russel Crowe's breakout role. He has gone on to bigger and better things and is one of the world's premium actors. All this even though he is a complete egotistical dickhead. Back in 1992 that was all before him and in Romper Stomper we can see the early days of his talent. He plays Hando, the leader of the skinheads, and he is chilling. Crowe masters the role as a hardened racist and street fighter. He has no morals and is a real hardnut. When the gang gets beaten up and dispursed he wants revenge and turns to buying guns to get it. Some of the others have had a real wake up call and are having serious doubts about their way of life.
 Eventually, through being narced on to the police, and their own stupidity, the skinheads become Hando alone who is prepared to go on. His best mate has had enough and shacks up with Hando's ex and wants out of the lifestyle. Hando won't leave him be saying 'you are all I have left', and he talks them into going to Adelaide to escape the police. On the way Hando tells his mate, Davy, to ditch the girl, who refuses and stabs Hando who then dies.
 This is not, and never was, a film that glorifyied violence. The skinheads are shown for what they are, scum, pure and simple scum, and no viewer is ever going to sympathise with them. They are neo-Nazi racists without really understanding the dogma they purportedly follow. They are just thugs for the hell of it and their ways eventually lead to their own demise. Most of the actors involved in the movie have disappeared and I could only recognise two, Crowe, and a guy who recently played the bent lawyer in the brilliant Animal Kingdom.
 For all its initial controversy Romper Stomper was a good film and even in its day, I, as a wide eyed bushy tailed twenty two year old, 'got' its message. I'm not fussed on the idea of racism and couldn't imagine going out and beating people up for being different to me.  This movie highlighted the ugly side of racism and it is unbelievable that it was so controversial. If it played today it would hardly raise an eyebrow as the violence has dated, but its core message hasn't.
 Worth a look if you can find a copy. It is well enough known to Aussie and Kiwi audienences so I'm keen to know if anyone else in the big wide world has seen or even knows of it. Like Gallipoli for Mel Gibson, Romper Stomper was Russel Crowe's big break and for any fans of his out there then this will be worth seeing for this is where it all began.
 Not a bad low budget film that emulates the classic, and controversial, A Clockwork Orange, with a unique Australian flavour and outlook.
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