Gallipoli (1981)

Larrikinism

The state of being noisy, rowdy, or disorderly. — Larrikin, adj., n.

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The early 80’s was a halcyon era for Australia War Films. They just seemed to be knocking them out on a production line. My film today was the first in a short line of Great War Films/TV series pumped out, all shiny and new smelling, from the sharp end of the Australian Great War Film machine. The excellent ‘Anzacs’ (1985) and then the reasonably good ‘The Lighthorseman’ (1987) followed swiftly on its’ heels. The largeness of Australia, its’ plethora of visually varied locations, its’ bone dry Outback and tropical coastline all help to make it an ideal place to film these films dealing with the Gallipoli campaign and the Great War in general.

Directed by Aussie Director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, Truman Show) ‘Gallipoli’ is very much a film of two halves. In the first half it follows the stories of some Australian guys in the weeks leading up to their decision to join the war effort and then in the second half it follows their travels through Egypt and up to Gallipoli. It is also a buddy movie, as these Aussie films tend to be. We have a young Mel Gibson and a guy called Mark Lee playing young Aussie chaps from very different backgrounds who become friends after racing against each other in a 100 yards race at an athletics meet.

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I think it does a decent job of conveying the various opinions prevalent in society at the time. We have those who hugged tightly into the bosom of the British Empire, staunchly opining that Australia must do it’s bit for the war effort and on the flipside we have those, like Mel Gibson’s character, who considered the war to be someone else’s problem. Australia was (and is) a melting pot of global cultures, many of whom would’ve fallen foul of the British Empire at some point, why should they help fight a war which is nothing to do with them and would help the cause of a nation, an empire indeed, which had actively persecuted their own culture at some point in recent history. However, the call to arms of the all singing, all dancing recruitment drives coupled with the perception of there being an adventure to be had helped pull many young, fit Aussies and Kiwis to the cause. Possibly/probably, like Mel Gibson’s character, against the will of their parents.

As with most of these Aussie Great War Films Larrikinism is prevalent in all its glory. We have the happy go lucky, cheeky, slightly dodgy, little bit edgy, ANZAC soldiers trying to intimidate Egyptian stall-holders, pulling one anothers legs and ruffling each others hair at every opportunity. It gets old very quickly but it’s such a staple of the ANZAC story that it cannot be left on the cutting room floor. The only Aussie film I can think of without it is Beneath Hill 60, which is an amazingly good film for its budget. Review pending. It does die down as things become serious, as they land at Gallipoli and it becomes clear they are in a real battle. This is the point I noted it was also a coming of age story, the young men we met at the start of the film (not more than 6 months previous in the chronology of the story) are now long gone and in their places are grizzled, staunch, hardened men.

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There is something odd about the soundtrack. Whenever one of the guys starts running Jean Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’ kicks in! It’s just weird. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the film and has a very jarring (pun intended) effect on the viewer. I can think of a couple of period films that can pull off a modern soundtrack (Plunkett and MacLeane, 1999 being the first that springs to mind) but in this one all it does it date stamp the production squarely in the early 80’s.

The battle scenes at the end are small scale but make their point. The historical accuracy is questionable at best. There is anti-British sentiment as the audience is told the British are drinking tea on the beach while the ANZACs toil and die in their droves. They are being forced to advance to draw attention away from the British landing at Suvla Bay. This didn’t happen. Not a big deal, it’s just a story after all, but it does raise the question that is the second half of this film pro-Australian or anti-British? It’s almost a toss-up but I’ll side on pro-Aussie.

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It’s not a great film, it’s an okay film. It’s a bit longer than it probably needed to be. It did teach me one thing. I now know how to use a watch as a compass…..and (I’ve just realised) how to use a compass as a watch, that in itself was well worth the time. The story is pretty standard Great War fare. It’s done well and the idiosyncrasies of the individuals are well put across. Mel Gibson does well in a film that launched him onto the international stage. If only he could’ve kept the anti-Semitism to himself.

The ending is of the usual un-happy type. It’s the way it should be. As I’ve said before, a happy ending would feel completely out of place. It’s a good’un though and it left me feeling the requisite amount of sadness, anger and disbelief. I’m reminded of the importance of remembering the Great War. We should never forget the death and suffering that resulted from this conflict and the impacts on the lives of a generation. These films, in general, keep the home fires burning and whether good, bad or indifferent that is a good thing.

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On a purely entertaining level this film is a partial success. There’s nothing I can put my finger on to say it’s bad but to the same degree there’s nothing which says it’s brilliant. So it’s okay. Just okay. Onwards and upwards to the next one.

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