Baz Luhrmann’s Australia: Trickster and the language of popular culture

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Baz Luhrmann’s Australia: Trickster and the language of popular culture

A presentation by Dr Terrie Waddell

Friday, June 8, 2012 7.30pm - 9.30pm
Venue: The Quaker House, 10 Hampson St, Kelvin Grove
Admission: Members & Concession: $10 • Non-members: $15

Director Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008) is tricksterish piece of historical reinvention. Although the film’s domestic and international reception was largely critical, I want to talk about the value in a story that relied so heavily on our understanding of the many stories that came before: those of lost/stolen children, a Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland sense of displacement, and the cinema sagas/melodramas of Hollywood where fraught, intense and undying heterosexual coupledom was a given. Because writers/creators begin as readers/viewers, they inevitably shape their work from inspirational images, sounds, ideas and plots. Luhrmann is more than an artistic vulture though. His trickster energy presides over the interlaced stories that guide the film’s central themes of love, grief and the shifting boundaries of our cultural identity.

In this discussion I’m going to talk about how this archetype infuses the margins of Australia. For trickster tells us that meaning is not just dependent on an awareness of cross-references, histories, and styles but on the multiple ways these variously manipulated influences are perceived, experienced and discussed by the reader/viewer. By taking the language of popular culture, the film speaks beyond the screen to the experiences and tastes of its viewers. The play of in-cinema-jokes and references builds a sense of camaraderie between the screen and those watching. This engagement is a kind of shape-shifting play with the past and present. Australia, also tells us not to take ourselves, our politics, our political correctness, or our gender stereotypes too seriously. But I would argue, it does ask us to feel beneath these cultural sensitivities to a more genuine place of care. In best trickster mode – it rattles, displaces, and shakes up the impulse to take the higher ground.

Dr. Terrie Waddell of the Media: Screen and Sound program at La Trobe University, has taught and written widely on contemporary media and mythical approaches to screen texts. Previous book publications include: Wild/lives – Trickster, Place and Liminality on Screen (Routledge, 2010); Mis/takes – Archetype, Myth and Identity in Screen Fiction (Routledge, 2006); Lounge Critic – The Couch Theorist’s Companion (co-editor, ACMI, 2004) produced in conjunction with The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the former Australian Film Commission; and Cultural Expressions of Evil and Wickedness – Wrath, Sex, Crime (editor, Rodopi, 2003).