Director: Ken Hannam
Stars: Jack Thompson, Max Cullen, Robert Bruning, Jerry Thomas
Sunday Too Far Away, directed by Ken Hannam (Dawn!), opens with one of the most iconic scenes in Australian cinema, in which a car flips and rolls off a dusty outback road and protagonist Foley (Jack Thompson) crawls out from under his crashed vehicle. It’s an introduction befitting of and analogous to Foley, a character who’s his own worst enemy, who manages to wearily scrape through life while flirting with self-destruction.
Hannam’s film, which centres on a motley crew of sheep shearers and their exploits, looms large in the Australian film canon but I’d wager it’s unfamiliar to most contemporary viewers. While the initial modus operandi for launching Down Under Flix was to shine a light on what I felt were neglected Australian films, I’ve come to realise that many of the films I’d considered established classics have themselves fallen into neglect. More people have seen Bright on Netflix than Breaker Morant. More eyes have feasted on Rampage starring The Rock than Picnic at Hanging Rock. And Sunday Too Far Away, the first Australian film to screen at Cannes and winner of Best Picture and Actor at the 1975 AFI Awards, likewise doesn’t carry much brand recognition nowadays.
To contemporary eyes it’s likely difficult to see how this unassuming, episodic production helped propel Australian cinema onto the world stage. And yet its legacy can be seen in much of the cinema that followed in its wake: pastoral narratives and tales of farm life like We of the Never Never and Bush Christmas, working class dramas like Caddie, pro-union stories like Strikebound and Waterfront, and celebrations of true blue masculinity, as epitomised here by Jack Thompson in his true blue singlet. I’ve previously praised Thompson as one of Australia’s finest film stars, and this is the film that cinched it; like many signature Thompson performances, his work is alternately laconic and barnstorming, but minus the coat of entitled macho smarm that mars some of his other star turns of this era (e.g. Scobie Malone, The Journalist)
Director: Mark Joffe
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Ben Mendelsohn, Bruno Lawrence, Toni Collette, Russell Crowe
While Sunday Too Far Away remains a respected relic, Spotswood is a film that in some respects is still waiting to be unearthed. Mark Joffe’s sophomore feature (following 1988’s Grievous Bodily Harm and earlier television projects) is an affably eccentric little film about a disillusioned bureaucrat (Anthony Hopkins) sent by his corporate overlord to a moccasin factory in the town of Spotswood to assess its economic viability and slash staff numbers. There he encounters a cast of eccentrics including mild mannered Carey (Ben Mendelsohn), who is torn between his affection for the boss’s bombshell daughter (Rebecca Rigg) and best friend Wendy (Toni Collette).
The Aussie battler is a well-worn archetype, cemented in Australian popular culture through literature like On Our Selection and Harp in the South and further perpetuated in films like The Castle and Kenny. Like Sunday Too Far Away, Spotswood offers a sympathetic re-tread of this archetype; where the former film dramatized tensions between Australian and European workers in the 1950s, Spotswood depicts the tension between big corporate imperatives and small business ethos. It’s a subject that continues to preoccupy director Mark Joffe given his most recent film, a documentary about musician Jimmy Barnes, is titled Working Class Boy. Yet neither Sunday Too Far Away nor Spotswood are completely enchanted with their onscreen battlers: the former film depicts their racist attitude towards those they deemed invaders, while the latter film presents its blue collar battlers them in a comedic light.
While not all of Spotswood’s mix of dry and goofy humour lands, the movie is bolstered by its solid cast, including a young Russell Crowe and Dan Wyllie. Mendelsohn and Collette (making her feature debut) are very fine anchors, while Hopkins is in understated The Remains of the Day/Shadowlands mode rather than hammy The Silence of the Lambs/Legends of the Fall mode, which is always a good thing. The film is shot by Ellery Ryan, who also served as cinematographer on Death in Brunswick and Angel Baby, and visually Spotswood shares with those films a certain suburban grunge, one befitting its semi-industrial environs.